I am usually patient when it comes to waiting for return phone calls or gathering information for a story. That is one of the luxuries of working on a weekly, rather than a daily, newspaper.
However, last week I reached my tolerance limit and I’m still ticked.
I was trying to call Assistant District Attorney Mike Elliott to get some information on a case for a story this week. I’m still trying! First of all, I went to the District Attorney’s phone system and get one of those “If you want this and that, press 1, 2, etc. now.”
I hate those phone systems. But I worked through the endless options and I get more recordings and more “press 1 now” directions. After what seemed like forever, I managed to get a real, honest to goodness, live secretary on the line. (The secretaries must have all been taking a
break because once I pressed 1 or 2 or 4, there would be another voice mailbox to talk to.)
I asked for Mike Elliott. This secretary said he is out of the office and would I like his voice mail. Sure, why not. I got to Elliott’s voice mail, listen to the message and then boom—the little annoying recorded voice on the other line said I can’t leave a message because his
voice mail was full and not accepting messages. By this time I am hostile!
After another round of pressing, waiting, pressing and waiting, I finally called someone in a different office to determine if Elliott was anywhere in this country (since he hadn’t cleared his voice mailbox and couldn’t be found) and learned he was in court. So, in a round-about
way I made it to his personal secretary, who graciously took a written message and said she would make him aware that I had called and what I needed.
In the meantime, I called the attorney who is representing the guy that Elliott plans to prosecute. Now mind you, this attorney is a BIG-time attorney—has a large practice in Houston and probably is as busy as all get-out every day. When I call, a nice receptionist answers the
phone. How refreshing. When I ask for him, she immediately sends me to his secretary—who actually answers her phone. Miracle of miracles. She told me the boss is in Hong Kong (as inChina) and won’t be back for a while. I explained who I am and why I needed to speak to him. Despite the fact
that he is a world away and the time difference is drastic—when it is like 6 p.m. here—it is 5 a.m. there. A day later his secretary called me and asked if calling after hours would be alright because when I am sleeping, he is working and vice-versa. I told her, this point he can call me at
midnight. I NEED the story. She laughed and said she'd tell him.
He returned my call and gave me an interview. Realizing that in order to call me at 6 p.m., he was up and drinking his first cup of coffee at 5 a.m. certainly made me appreciative and impressed with his professionalism.
Back to Mike. He did apparently have his secretary call me and advise that he was in court (two days after the first call). I’m still waiting to talk to him. However, the story is done and filed and, frankly, I don’t even want him to anymore. He had a week and I’ll bet my sweet
petunia he knows how to dial a phone number after hours as well.
So, if any of you have a feeling that the story is a bit “slanted” it has nothing to do with my opinion of this case. Nor does it have to do with giving one side more “air time” than the other.
It has to do with public officials being public servants and responding to the public. It has to do with being accessible. It has to do with not being so darn big for your britches that you can’t call after hours. Heck, even District Attorney John Healey calls after hours. He has
called as late as 8 p.m. several times. But he calls.
And most of all if there a gazillion quotes from the Houston attorney and none from the DA’s office, it just might be because he was willing to take the time to respond to a phone call from the media knowing that we will get the word out to the public. In other words, a private
attorney realizes the concept of being a public servant—even when he is clearly not.
How much do you want to bet that after this column is printed, Mike Elliott finds some way to figure out the complex chore of press 1 now and I hear from him?