Kathy Tobin's column in the Feb. 2, 2010, Tomahawk Leader:
I’m an angry constituent and a frustrated reporter.
Rumor had it that the governor would address the issue of closing one of the state’s three juvenile corrections facilities during his State of the State address last Tuesday night. Such a decision could drastically impact this area since Lincoln Hills School in Irma is one of the institutions. An attempt was begun well in advance to learn the facts concerning the speculation.
Nearly two weeks before the governor’s speech, I contacted his office in an attempt to confirm whether or not the topic would surface. I was referred to the press point person and left a voice mail message. Later that afternoon I received a brief email from the public information director in the department that had my interest. He asked simply that I send my questions. I did so that very evening.
I explained we had a deadline to meet and, while my questions were fairly extensive, I would welcome whatever information he could share. I didn’t expect they’d want to give me too much insight into the governor’s speech, but I hoped to at least know if the subject would be addressed. Phone and email information was included, along with our absolute latest deadline.
I didn’t hear anything the next day (Friday, Jan. 15), or over the weekend. That Monday – as we were trying to go to press – we had a computer program malfunction that disrupted the layout process and my attention. The paper had already gone to the printer when I realized I hadn’t heard anything from Madison. It occurred to me that, because it was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, state staff might not be working in full force and I assumed that might be the excuse.
I was peeved but still had a week before the governor’s speech. My attention turned to getting something in the Jan. 26 paper.
Some reminder emails were sent to the information director, along with the same set of questions, just in case.
I called his office and left a message. I called his cell phone number and got a recording that it was disconnected. Perhaps he had been laid off or dismissed, was my thought.
Starting over, I contacted the governor’s office and got the voice mail of the press point person and left my now-repetitive message. When I didn’t hear from her over the course of the next five or six hours, I called again to see if I should talk to someone else. The receptionist assured me that the person I sought was in the building that day. I asked for her email address and was told that such information could not be given out over the phone.
Deadline Monday 2 arrived and still no response. I called Madison again and, this time, left an angry message. I also left a “Please, help me” voice message with one of the top dogs in the Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division, bypassing the press channels altogether.
It’s now the day after the governor’s speech and I have yet to hear one word from anyone tied to the governor’s office or the Department of Corrections.
I find that appalling.
As it turned out, the governor did not address the subject (which may or may not be a story in itself). Likewise, not a soul has seen fit to address the questions raised by this newspaper via my many phone calls, emails and voice mail messages.
I didn’t expect favored treatment as a member of the press, but if this is how we’re treated, I can only imagine how the average guy feels.
As I said, appalling.
P.S. I also contacted Paul Westerhouse, Lincoln Hills School superintendent, that deadline Monday #2 and he kindly took my call and responded the best he could. All sorts of rumors have surfaced, he said. Given the state’s economic situation, Westerhouse indicated he did not know what to expect during the governor’s speech and whether or not “he would even speak to the issue of the juvenile justice system. It’s all speculation at this point,” he stated.
Update: Received an email at 4:40 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 from John Dipko, one of the heretofore ghost writers for the governor. It came two weeks to the day after my first contact with him. It was three lines long, two of which referred me to web sites for further information. The last line said: “Regarding the below tip (a reference to the rumor that the governor would announce the closing of one of the juvenile facilities) as you know there was no such announcement on 1/26.”
Thanks a lot!
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. ... I will be sending my column and the emails I received to the governor's office.
(Kathy Tobin has a weekly column in the Tomahawk Leader. Subscriptions are available through the Leader office or copies of the newspaper are sold at newsstands throughout the area. The entire newspaper also is available by Online Edition subscription through a link under the Paper Clips column at left.)