The public’s right to know

Charlie Warner

Argus News Editor

This past weekend I came across a column penned by Joe Soucheray, whom I have long considered one of the top newspaper columnists in the Twin Cities.

In his March 11 column, Soucheray bemoaned the fact that newspapers just aren’t able to delve as deeply into many controversial issues as they once did. Most of the time, these controversial issues have to do with city, county, school district,  state or federal governing bodies.

The advent of the Internet, which has really dropped subscription and advertising revenues, especially with daily newspapers, and the much stricter privacy laws have really handcuffed investigative reporters. With the drastic drop in revenues, hundreds of thousands of good newspaper reporters across the U.S. have either opted for early retirements or been laid off. The net result is there are less reporters out there trying to keep the public informed.

Soucheray pointed out with Sunshine Week coming up (which is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information and the press) it was very troubling that the Burnsville School District would not allow any information to be made public about the buy out of an employee who worked in the human resources department. According to Soucheray’s column, Tania Z. Chance was paid $250,000 to resign. That’s not a misprint, we’re talking about a quarter of a million dollars.

School district officials won’t divulge why they ponied up this huge amount of money. They claim they don’t have to. Soucheray said they so creatively have interpreted Minnesota’s data practices laws that they are pulling one of those “depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” moments.

According to Soucheray, public officials are supposed to tell the taxpayers who write the checks why they paid somebody off if the dispute involves more than $10,000.  This check was for 25 times more than the $10,000 ceiling, but the Burnsville School District has clammed up. They say there isn’t any dispute. I wouldn’t think there would be a dispute either if someone paid me $250,000 to move on to another school district.

As Soucheray pointed out, 38 years ago two investigative reporters were able to spend countless hours digging and digging until they were able to bring down the President of the United States.

Fast forward nearly four decades and all of the reporters in the Twin Cities have not been able to find out why the Burnsville School District shelled out a quarter of a million dollars to a school human resources director to resign.

I’ll bet the taxpayers of that school district would like to know the hows and whys of that one.

*****

While the winter sports season for all of our Warrior teams has come to a close, the Spring Grove girls basketball team will be participating in the girls state tournament this Thursday. From what I’ve been told, this is the first time a girls basketball team from Spring Grove has qualified for the “Big Dance.”

I watched the Lions in action during the holiday tournament when they defeated our Warrior girls. They have a great club and I wish them the best.

I do have several minor connections with the Lions team. I played in a men’s softball league at Canton for many years with their coach Russel Larson. He was our shortstop and I played second. We turned many a double play during the years we were teammates.

And three of the Lions’ starters played on the state championship Junior Olympic volleyball team that my daughter was on six years ago. When you spend every weekend in March and April going to JO volleyball tournaments, you get to know the girls on the team, as well as their parents.

Good luck Lions!!!

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