Public officials must answer reporters’ questions

Editorial from the Idaho Press-Tribune

By Scott McIntosh

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for public officials here in the 2C. The city of Middleton has been going through some rough patches with some developers over what the developers say are unfair and at least inconsistent applications of codes and ordinances. Then, last Sunday, we documented in previously unreported detail the specific accusations against Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, which included using taxpayer-paid employees to do errands for the K. Donahue Foundation, which runs a very worthy effort, the Man Up Crusade.

We consider ourselves advocates for the taxpayers. We represent the people, as we keep an eye on what the government is doing. That’s the essence of watchdog journalism. And Middleton Mayor Darin Taylor is the government. Sheriff Kieran Donahue is the government.

Don’t you want to know why Taylor cut a check of $24,000 in taxpayer money to Coleman Homes? Should we just place our trust in Taylor and accept that it must be a wise decision?

Don’t you want to know that Donahue had taxpayer-funded employees making copies of CD’s and picking up dry cleaning and arranging flights to Oklahoma for a rodeo for Donahue? And about that $200 change order — was that taxpayer money?

We still don’t know. That’s because Taylor and Donahue did not comment on these facts for our stories, despite our repeated attempts.

And that’s a shame, because they have a duty and a responsibility as elected officers and caretakers of the public trust and public money to answer to the public, which means us, “the media,” who are asking the questions on behalf of the taxpayers.

It’s not a witch hunt. It’s not trying to get someone out of office. We’re not “picking on” anyone. It’s an attempt to bring accountability to the government.

To me, there are still a lot of unanswered questions that the public has a right to know.

For example, are county employees still doing work for the Man Up Crusade while being paid by taxpayer dollars?

It’s not about the Man Up Crusade. The Man Up Crusade is a terrific and worthy cause. People should donate money to the cause and people should volunteer to do things like pick up dry cleaning, burn CD’s and book flights to Oklahoma for rodeos. But should employees of the sheriff’s department do that work on the taxpayer dime? Is that an appropriate use of tax dollars?
I reserve judgment. But I would like to hear an explanation or a justification. That’s what our reporter Ruth Brown was hoping to get from Donahue when she called him multiple times. But he didn’t respond.

You see, that’s part of what we do, too. We get both sides. We present facts to our readers and then we let all sides have their say to explain the situation, to persuade, to convince, so that you, the reader, can make up your own mind. After hearing an explanation from Donahue, you may be persuaded that what he’s doing is good and right.

Unfortunately, when someone clams up and hides from the media, their side never gets told. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also an abdication of the responsibility of a public official, who must answer to the public, to the taxpayers, to the people who elected them.

Taxpayers have a right to know, and elected officials who get a paycheck from tax dollars have a duty to respond to a reporter’s questions.

So just a warning to public officials: When the caller ID says it’s the Idaho Press-Tribune, pick up the phone. It’s part of your job.

Editorial from the Idaho Press-Tribune

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