If you listen to the
detractors of County Clerk Dianne Wilson, it seems there is
a movement to make Wilson a threat to national security. I
feel like it is some kind of Central Intelligence Agency
syndrome. After years of being on the cutting edge of
technological advances that have launched Fort Bend County
into the 21st Century (during the 20th) Wilson is now under
fire by a handful of politically motivated types who want us
all to believe putting public documents on the Internet is a
threat to all Fort Bend County residents and the United
States as well.
Wilson has now taken probate records off
the Internet in anticipation of a Texas Attorney General’s
ruling on whether she can or cannot remove sensitive data
from official documents before placing them on the Internet.
It is a concern she has had since day one, but the Texas
laws that govern what is and what is not public information
have had her hands tied. In other words, she is obligated to
provide public records to those who ask for it and the state
also designates how much she can charge for this public
information if the requester wants to purchase officials
documents one at a time or by the thousands.
I can almost envision Wilson’s photo on a
political opponent’s campaign literature naming the
incumbent as public enemy number one! How ridiculous.
No one wants their social security number
or driver’s license put out as public information, but the
problem is not Dianne Wilson, it is the state and federal
laws that govern what Wilson is obligated, by law, to do.
And, it might be noted one more time that
Wilson is only one of a large number of county and district
clerks who have converted text records into Internet files
for the convenience of the citizenry and to help take the
load (and taxpayer’s expense) off their office staff. I am
sure the move to making public records more public has
crimped the style of the thousands of businesses that wish
to sell this information to title companies, those looking
for lost relatives and private investigator types, but it
doesn’t construe to making Wilson public enemy number one.
Let’s get back to the real issues,
whatever they may be, in this political race and quit trying
to muddy the waters with this nonsense. The records have
been available on the Internet for quite some time and there
is no reason for them to suddenly become an issue. If they
were a threat to national security, it should have been
identified as a threat immediately and not years later when
Wilson has an opponent in the race. All the investigative
reporting in the world cannot justify the attack mode that
is currently ongoing, especially in light of the fact that
being able to access public records on the Internet has been
the subject of many a story over the past few years with
nary an adverse comment.
I really wasn’t going to discuss this in
a public forum until our publisher Bev Carter suggested I
should, so here goes. During the filming of Extreme Home
Makeover Home Edition, I and dozens of other reporters were
on hand periodically through the makeover in East Bernard.
The media was treated very kindly by Royce Homes
representatives who apparently were responsible for keeping
track of the media and making sure that all of the rules
were followed. They provided a VIP tent with all kinds of
sandwiches and treats and big drums of cold drinks.
However, I didn’t go there to eat, drink
and visit. I went there to get photos of the makeover and
stories on the interesting and heart warming events that
were unfolding in this small town bordering Fort Bend
County. And, that is where the problems surfaced. On the day
of the official “unveiling” with the famous “move that bus”
scenario, the media was placed in a fenced in area at the
very opposite end of the visitors section. While regular
citizens were able to view and photograph the stars and the
Kubena family as the big moment arrived, we found ourselves
scrambling to try and get a clear shot of the biggest moment
of the event. In fact without a large telephoto lens on the
camera, a reporter could not get a shot of the unveiling.
And, to make matters worse, because we were all penned
inside this small fenced in area, many of the attempted
shots produced photos of a thumbnail, too far away image,
complete with portions of the long telephoto lenses of
nearby reporters. Now I am only 4’11” and that proved to be
a hindrance as well. I knew I had to get over the half dozen
telephotos zooming in on the unveiling, so I shimmied up the
metal fence, wedging my legs between the bars to try and
balance myself while shooting the scenes.
When the event was over, the media was
kept in the fenced area while the visitors roamed freely.
The media that claimed to be “on deadline” were released
from the confines of the pen, while the remainder of the
reporters were told to wait for some of the design team
members (the stars, if you will) to appear for interviews.
Glancing down the fence, two of the
design team could be seen visiting with the crowds, signing
autographs and submitting to photos. Being a less than
patient type, I followed two of the daily paper
photographers, who said they had to be released because of
deadline, out the opening of the pen.
The daily photographers went toward the
area where shuttles were supposed to be (that is another
story—they weren’t) and I took off toward the crowds where
the close up personal visiting was going on. I was stopped
twice. It seems it was OK for the regular visitors to take
photos of the completed house, the design team etc., but
those of us in the media who had patiently complied with all
of the rules, spent six to eight hours waiting for the
unveiling, submitted to being penned up at the very end of
the secured area—were not supposed to be there. Well, I was
tired, thirsty, hot and a bit grumpy because I had missed
out on good shots of the family and the unveiling. I had no
intention of missing a few good shots of the design team and
the completed house, so I just plowed on down and took the
photos. Then I walked for miles waiting for some sort of
ride to the designated parking.
I adore Extreme Home Makeover. In fact it
was my favorite show on television and one of only a few
that I actually sit through from start to finish. I also
think that the teams from Royce Homes and the thousands of
other volunteers should be commended for giving this
deserving family a dream come true. But that doesn’t alter
the downside of this event.
The day after the local unveiling I awoke
and started to make coffee. As I reached for the coffee, my
arm hurt like the devil. Trying to figure out what on earth
was wrong, I looked at the area emitting pain---black and
blue. I then bent down to get the coffee filters and the
same ouch came from my legs. I looked and, sure enough—black
and blue—perfect lines where the legs had lodged in the pen
barriers. I’m getting too darn old for this.
It would seem to me that Royce Homes and
ABC Television would welcome local reporters. After all, I
heard dozens of people say they hadn’t watched the show up
until the local reporters started covering the East Bernard
event but now intended to view the program regularly.
Giving reporters VIP passes and treats is
just great but most of us have learned to live without food
in order to get a hot story and photographs. There isn’t a
sandwich in the world that can compensate for being stymied
in doing the job you set out to do.
Shame on whoever set up the media agenda.
They obviously have never been there and done that” or they
would have had the foresight to place the media in the
proper place to get the job done without all the obstacles.
The bruises have healed, my hurt pride in
not getting the shots I wanted, hasn’t. The only
satisfaction I had was when I viewed the shots taken by the
daily papers and realized even with huge telephoto lenses,
most of the big boys got blurry shots—but at least they
appeared close up. I’m sure they were none too happy either
when they saw the finished product in print.
I hope, if there is ever another event of this nature,
those who arrange for the media realize that we aren’t there
for fun or food but to get the story. And, it would be nice
if accomplishing that task did not include exhaustion and