It's not uncommon for there to be tension between the media and government. In fact, so strong was the ill-will between former Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier and the Milwaukee Journal that we used to joke "the problem is simple: the Journal wants to run the city and the mayor wants to run the Journal."
The proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" for the Pleasant Prairie folks was an article a few months back in which the newspaper implied that village trustees may have run afoul of the Open Meetings Law by being present in their group office (a "bullpen") prior to a village board meeting.
The board members said they weren't discussing village business and there's no evidence to refute that.
Since that time both sides have "dug in" and getting either to budge doesn't seem to be in the cards.
So fast forward to today's Kenosha News account of last night's village board meeting:
- No mention whatsoever of any discussion about the proposed village budget and property tax increase (Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff promised to get the budget information up on the village website and offered to answer any questions).
- No mention whatsoever of the lifesaving award given to Officer Peter Jung of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department.
- The lead story was about a letter from the Attorney General's office to perennial gadfly Bob Babcock confirming that board members may provide an immediate response to comments and questions from citizens instead of waiting until the very end of the meeting when trustee comments are scheduled. That's old news. The newspaper reported it last week and the village board responded by following the suggestion I made here on September 13 that there's nothing wrong with a brief response to a citizen's comment or question so long as no formal board action is taken.
- The major bone of contention at the meeting -- a condominium developer's desire to dodge a village requirement that no more than 20 per cent of the units could be rented out if not sold -- got second-billing in today's story and even then the short-shrift. The newspaper, which previously editorialized about the number of "unanimous votes" by village trustees, failed to report that new board members Clyde Allen and Monica Yuhas vowed to stick to the 20 per cent requirement. This was the major issue at last night's meeting.
- The newspaper also printed comments by former village trustee Alex Tiahnybok critical of the board's decision to move the time for trustee comments to the end of the meeting. What was left out of the story is that the reason for that decision is that when Tiahnybok and Jeff Lauer were on the board the bickering and sniping that took place during trustee comments often meant that it was eight or nine o'clock before the board got down to the real business on its agenda. (As the person who suggested that change -- which, by the way is the practice followed by the Kenosha Common Council -- I regret if that inconveniences anyone but it seemed a necessary thing to do.)
There's another failing by the newspaper -- and it's a big one.
If village officials want to make access more difficult then it should be incumbent for the newspaper to do as other news outlets have done in similar situations: work harder to independently investigate and report the news.
When Harold Breier was Milwaukee's police chief the police department only released brief summaries of reported crimes to the news media. That meant that reporters had to respond to the scenes of reported crimes and interview witnesses on their own. That often led to better stories and undoubtedly created better reporters.
Pleasant Prairie is a major community in this county and deserves more thorough and thoughtful coverage regardless of whether there's ill-will between the village government and the newspaper.