A Local Press Responsible for Its Own Decline

If it should be true that government sometimes overreaches – and it does – then part of the responsibility for that overreaching rests with a supine, wheedling press. One finds this locally as well as nationally: while one would expect an American publication to speak truth to power, instead one too often finds local publications that do little more than beg.

A recent editorial in the nearby Janesville Gazette, Attorneys take over Milton School Board, shows how enervated newspapers have become.  The Gazette’s editorialist correctly identifies the problem of unaccountable government but then reveals the paper’s own failure in the face of that problem:

Who’s running the Milton School District, its school board or attorneys?

Judging by how the board has reacted to The Gazette’s inquiries into payments for Superintendent Tim Schigur and Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz, the latter seems to be in charge.

That’s something for voters to consider next election when board members clam up in the face of questions about the $447,000 resignation packages given to Schigur and Schuetz. These two “voluntarily” resigned effective June 30, and yet Schigur is receiving $148,500 and Schuetz $75,000 for “compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.”


Which brings us to the list of 19 questions The Gazette submitted to Milton school officials seeking more details about these golden parachutes. The district sat on the questions for weeks after receiving them May 14. Then on June 6, School Board President Joe Martin announced the district wouldn’t answer them.

Honest to goodness. That’s it? The Milton School District refuses to reply to the request, and all that this newspaper can say is that the community might consider that refusal at next year’s election?

That’s not speaking truth to power; it’s mumbling while heading for the exit.

Either the Gazette submitted a request under the law or it did not.  If it did not, the newspaper’s questions were no more effectual than water cooler conversations.  If the newspaper did submit good faith questions as a formal matter, then it has failed to defend its rights under the law.  See Public Records Requests as Pre-Litigation Actions for more on how important it is to hold officials accountable for compliance with good faith requests.

Although the Milton School District is outside this website’s local-government portfolio, so to speak, the Gazette’s weak response may encourage other officials near Milton to believe (mistakenly) that they can similarly ignore requesters’ inquiries submitted expressly under law.

The Gazette bemoans unresponsive officials, but that newspaper is responsible for those officials’ temerity, and for its own decline.

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