The Sunday Kenosha News reports on Pleasant Prairie's controversial clean water fee, suggesting that the village's interpretation of state laws and rules may be wrong by exempting agricultural land, a move that ostensibly benefits village president John P. Steinbrink, sr.
The article concedes that the matter is "subject to interpretation" and the underlying regulations deeply complicated. (Having heard explanations of the fee structure several months ago I will also concede that it is very complex.)
But here's the real problem.
If Steinbrink is unlawfully getting a sweetheart deal, that's news. But there's a world of difference between "may be" and "is" and the article does little to actually resolve the issue.
For example, the online story doesn't say what similar communities around the state have done with respect to agricultural land. It would certainly have bolstered the online story's credibility had this information been included. There was a story in the print version and, upon reading it, it says that the approach to agricultural land varies widely among the mentioned communities. (In Mount Pleasant, for example, agricultural land pays a flat annual $19 fee per parcel which, when you take into account the cost of collection, probably amounts to a wash.)
The print story doesn't mention any other Pleasant Prairie landowners who aren't paying clean water fees on land exempt because of agricultural use. The print story would have greater credibility if it could be shown that the exemption only benefits Steinbrink and his family.
Had Steinbrink used his official position to engineer a benefit for himself, that would be news. But the newspaper, while raising that inference, never established any wrongdoing.
So the way the story reads, Steinbrink may be wrongly benefitting from the village's clean water assessment formula but the newspaper isn't sure whether he actually is and concedes that the matter is subject to interpretation.
About the only thing that's clear is shoddy journalism.
Steinbrink's friends will cry foul and say that the newspaper was simply trying to do a hatchet job. Maybe that's true -- and maybe it's something that's subject to interpretation.
UPDATE: Since the story was posted early this morning the newspaper has now added a comparison chart of other village properties, a memo concerning clean water fees and a link to how they are calculated in the village. According to the memo, the village is not prohibited from excluding agricultural land and that the factors used in the village's formula are legitimate.