Cats And Indians

By Lee White

UPDATE: As promised below, click here for a link to the Augusta Leader’s story on the cat issue. And click here for Sue Jones’ response to the Augusta Leader story.

Augusta has been in the spotlight this week and not in a good way. First, the Senior Center posted an old joke about Native Americans on its sign. Then, former City Council Member Sue Jones and her husband were fined several hundred dollars for watering stray cats.

As anyone can imagine, these events set off a firestorm of debate. Although I’m not an Augusta resident, I’ve followed events there for many years and, because I continue to write about them, I believe it’s important to make clear my position on these two matters.

Regarding the sign, I wasn’t horribly offended by it and realize it was probably someone’s attempt at humor rather than racism. Nonetheless, the Senior Center is a public agency and the sign is public property. Anti-discrimination laws apply to government agencies and those private concerns that offer public accommodations (restaurants, hotels, real estate agencies, etc.). Someone could allege that the Senior Center discriminated against him or her and use the sign as evidence of a “pattern and practice” of discriminatory behavior. That’s why the sign had to go and, to their credit, officials moved quickly to remove it once someone complained.

Have Americans become too sensitive about such jokes? Well, maybe, but it is a historical fact that European settlers committed genocide against the native people and herded the ones who survived onto reservations. Granted, nobody alive today was responsible for these atrocities just as nobody alive today owned slaves. If somebody wants to crack jokes that some folks might find racist on their Facebook page or in their homes, that’s their right under the First Amendment. Those who are offended can “unfriend” the individual. A government agency by its very nature acts under what’s called “color of law.” We can’t “unfriend” it; we still must fund it with our taxes or go to jail. Its rights are restricted by the same Constitution that gives a private citizen free reign to act like Archie Bunker.

I chose to report on the sign because of its public nature and to start a conversation about the bounds of racially-charged speech. It looks as if I succeeded because, as of this writing, the Facebook post about it has been viewed 16,092 times — a Watchdog record. I’m fairly certain the transgression won’t be repeated, so I’m not going to beat it to death. One final thought: The areas of the United States that are doing the best economically are also the ones that are the most welcoming to those who are different in some way.

On Tuesday, an Augusta Municipal Court judge found Jones and her husband guilty of violating city ordinances that prohibit feeding and watering feral cats. Now, there’s some talk that Jones and her husband had been “hoarding” cats and going on other people’s property to collect them and feed them. A local reporter is working that angle of the story and when she has it ready, I’ll put a link here and on Facebook. Click here to read KWCH-TV’s version of events.

The Joneses are advocates of a trap-neuter-release program and say they’ve been running their own. Jones tried to get the City Council to adopt such a program officially in 2015. The matter was tabled and apparently never revisited, according to this story in the Times-Gazette.

It’s time to revisit it.

If the city’s plan of ignoring the feral cats — I hear the problem is centered downtown — had been successful, the population would have decreased. Even the ones who side with the City of Augusta on this issue admit that there are more cats than ever before. The city is apparently looking for a scapegoat to explain away its failed policy and has found one in the Joneses. If only Sue and her husband would quit feeding and watering them, they’d go away, right?

Well, except for the fact that cats (humans too) will continue to procreate unless they’re fixed or euthanized. One can argue that they may not procreate as fast if they’re not receiving high-quality food and water, but their population will still grow. And if the city isn’t going to address the problem, private citizens eventually will and that’s a recipe for disaster. It’s already a public relations nightmare for the City of Augusta, whose leaders apparently don’t care how outsiders perceive the community.

Now, the Joneses have probably been warned not to feed the cats and Sue was even cited in 2015 for putting boxes outside her business to shelter them. Her continuing to feed them is probably an act of civil disobedience. The City Council’s failure to do anything beyond perpetuating a failed system is an act of negligence at best.

The Joneses had better quit feeding the cats, but the city had better revisit the trap-neuter-release program. I believe any such program should include basic vaccinations, as well, so that a rabies problem doesn’t take hold. It works elsewhere and could be privately funded just as it is in Phoenix. I’d be willing to bet the Joneses would raise money to start the program. Although I don’t live in Augusta, I’d be happy to contribute and to publicize the fundraiser through Watchdog.

If the City Council won’t take another look at trap-neuter-release — or at least do something proactive about the feral cat issue — then folks can rightly conclude that its members are a bunch of control freaks who care nothing about solving community problems by means other than force. Augusta has traditionally had a difficult time finding candidates to run for council, but if the current heavy-handed manner of dealing with its citizenry continues, it should be no problem to find replacements in the next couple of election cycles. And you can bet I’ll help with that, too!

A Letter From The Operator Of Proposed Towanda Crematory

Mr. White,
Thank you for taking the time and doing your own research into the issues at hand. We very much appreciate someone who is willing to be impartial and present the facts to the communities we serve. My name is Shawn Snyder and I am one half of the partnership that owns Heritage Funeral Home in Andover and El Dorado. I have been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for 14 years and was working in the industry for 4 years prior to that as I finished my schooling. I was also a manufacturer licensed crematory operator before the state of Kansas began requiring crematory operators to  be licensed through the state. My business partners are Corey and Sherry Hagemeister who have been in the communities of Butler county for 40 years. We are all very supportive donors of many of the non profit groups and churches in our communities. We opened Heritage Funeral Home because we all had a vision of caring for families better than the corporate funeral homes were back then so we founded Heritage and opened our doors in Andover in 2005. Around 2010 there were many members of the El Dorado community that were hoping for other options for services in town; as the local funeral homes were owned jointly by a corporation in Houston, TX; so we opened a small office and have since expanded to our own building and chapel that is renovated from the original machine shop in town. Our proposed expansion into Towanda will be a crematory of which we are planning to purchase brand new state of the art, top of the line equipment.
We have scheduled an informational meeting for Thursday, June 22 at the United Methodist Church as you well know. We are hoping to introduce ourselves to the community and visit with them about who we are, why we’re here and why we’ve chosen Towanda.
In addition I want to give you some of the information that we will have available to the citizens and the city officials on thursday night and at the hearing in July. We will also have a book that shows the location of every crematory licensed by the state of Kansas.(all of which are in towns and located adjacent to residential neighborhoods, schools and shopping areas)
CANA (Cremation Association of North America) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly funded a 1999 study — the most recent one they’ve conducted — that tested crematory emissions over a seven-day period at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. The tests showed evidence that crematories are capable of low emissions without the addition of pollution equipment and that higher temperatures can increase pollutants, according to the CANA study.
This document is from Pima County, Arizona. Page 3, paragraph 2 speaks to Mercury Emissions
This is a study done by Ensafe for Spring Hill, TN., page 24 gives their conclusions.

Mercury Spring Hill Modeling Report | Air Pollution | Cremation

EnSafe was engaged by the City of Spring Hill, Tennessee to review and document relevant scientific, engineering…
This is from the State of Georgia Department of Public Health, Page 1, paragraph 5 speaks to the EPA’s stance on cremations.
Thank you again for taking your time, being impartial and presenting the facts as they are.
Respectfully,
Shawn N. Snyder
Manager
Heritage Funeral Home
316-733-1020
316-321-1001
www.heritageofandover.com

The Reality Of The Brownback Veto Override

By Lee White

I received some messages this morning from a friend who lives in El Dorado. She and her husband work for a business that requires them to travel to distant states for heavy construction projects. My friend asked why everyone seemed happy that the Kansas Legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of the tax bill — a bill that is sure to increase income taxes for most Kansans, especially those whose limited liability companies (LLCs) have enjoyed a tax exemption since 2012.

To understand why so many people are happy about a tax increase, I told her, one need only look at the number of folks in El Dorado who depend on government for their livelihood, to wit:

  • USD 490 has 350 employees.
  • Butler County has 488 employees, according to 2016 data from KansasOpenGov.org.
  • Butler Community College, in this annual report, claims its staff and students created 8,558 “job equivalents.” Other sources list the academic staff alone at 1,200. Any way you cut it, BCC is a large employer.
  • The City of El Dorado has 140 full-time staff and 200 temporary or seasonal employees.
  • The El Dorado Correctional Facility had 446 full-time employees in 2010 (and that probably doesn’t include contractors such as nurses and psychologists).

Then you have others who depend on government indirectly. Consider all those who work in health care. How many of them do you think there would be if Medicare and Medicaid didn’t exist? Just ask the folks in Sumner County, who are at risk of losing their hospital, what the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid is about to cost them.

You see, folks, even in a “Red State,” the economy is positively and irrevocably addicted to government cheese. When Gov. Brownback and his supporters in the Legislature slashed and burned taxes and spending, they sent the state’s economy into a tailspin. The sad reality is, the overall economy of Kansas will probably benefit from the tax increases and higher (or at least stable) state spending.

This is not to say that reinstating taxes on LLCs and boosting income taxes won’t hurt some people. It definitely will and some of the hardest hit will be farmers. At least some Kansas farmers organized their businesses as LLCs to take advantage of the tax break, which is soon to be gone. Crop prices are low and President Trump wants to cut farm subsidies. There will likely be even harder times in the agricultural sector and energy is likely to feel the pinch, as well, because oil and gas prices are low. Maybe these folks can get government jobs.

Kansas was just a bit late to the party in restructuring its tax system. The Brownback reforms might have worked had he implemented them three decades ago when the overall Kansas and U.S. private sectors were stronger. They clearly didn’t work this time — or at least voters believed they didn’t and elected or frightened enough legislators in 2016 to force a change.

Those who don’t like the new taxes will vote with their feet. My El Dorado friend and her husband are moving to Texas later this year. Texas has no state income tax. Most Texas corporations are taxed at only one percent. The move is really a no-brainer — keep more of their money, prepare for retirement, and still be close enough to visit the grandkids. It will remain to be seen how many others follow suit and what effect their outmigration will have on Kansas’ already-weakened private sector.

Praise For Sheriff’s Department

The following comes from Mike Hayes, a member of the Towanda City Council, who is also a licensed private investigator and a former deputy. National Police Week is May 14-20. Although I am not afraid to hold law enforcement accountable on this blog and on my Facebook page, I believe the public needs to understand that the cops “get it right” the vast majority of the time. Thank you, Mike, for this timely reminder of the many good works these brave souls perform day in and day out.

A huge thanks and pat on the back to Sheriff Herzet, Undersheriff Wilhite and the Butler County Sheriff Department and specifically Captain Ken Morgan and Detectives Gresham, McMurphy and Hughey as well as the patrol crews of Lt. Gurley and Lt. Bartlett.

On April 26th a very expensive and hi-tech item was stolen from my son. Due to the hard work and professional efforts of these officers the suspect was apprehended in less than 24 hours. By the excellent follow-up investigation and a cooperative effort with the Arkansas City Police Department the property was recovered within 48 hours.

We don’t give enough credit to our law enforcement officers for the great job they do and the long hours they spend on our safety. We also don’t give them all the tools they need to do their jobs, especially in Butler County where these folks work for wages well below the standard in our area.

Support your local law enforcement and let them know how much you appreciate all that they do.

Mike Hayes

Towanda KS

Why A Police Report Matters

By Lee White

UPDATE 1:40 p.m. CDT 5/3/2007: I received the following e-mail from ADPS Chief Tyler Brewer:

I would have if you would have contacted me prior to writing the article. If you actually knew me, you’d probably have a different opinion of me but that’s okay….it comes with my job.

God Bless…. and I do mean that,

Tyler 

I received this letter today from the Augusta Department of Public Safety stating that there is no Kansas Standard Offense Report on file from anyone named Brewer for the period April 13 to April 24. The letter came in response to a Kansas Open Records Act request originally filed on April 24. I want to thank Kim Galgon, the records clerk for the ADPS, for the response, as well as City Manager Josh Shaw and Mayor Matt Childers. I know the vast majority of the sworn officers and civilian staff at the department are hard-working, honest folks. Nevertheless, no public agency can function well without accountability.

There used to be strong, local newspapers and radio and TV stations that would report on controversial matters. Due to a combination of factors, including newspapers’ flubbing the digital transition spectacularly, those entities have either gone out of existence entirely or operate as mere skeletons of their former selves with corporate owners who care nothing about anything but a stock price.

Maybe a misguided sense of duty motivates me to continue this blog, but Butler County is a place I know well. I know its history as well as about anyone, having lived it for the past 52 years despite residing elsewhere part of that time. I had great teachers, including the late BCC journalism instructor Bill Bidwell, who knew where every, single body was buried back to the beginning of time.

I see a county that was growing and thriving but has “stalled out” the past decade or so. Augusta, in particular, used to have more going for it economically and otherwise than El Dorado, where I grew up, even though Augusta’s population was less. Some of the stories I read and hear give me pause to consider whether that’s still the case and, as always, I want to get to the “why.” Life circumstances afford me the opportunity to do so. It’s more interesting to me than television or video games, so it’s what I do. And I’m going to continue doing it.

Maybe I’ll live in Butler County again, but I believe I must stay close to KU Medical Center, where my wife receives care for her MS, so I live in Harrisonville, Missouri, where her family resides. If I croak, her wonderful sister is only five blocks away. Such are the choices we have to make in life, but, man, wouldn’t it be fun to be “on the ground” turning stories like a blackjack dealer turns cards (and probably wearing a Kevlar vest)? In the meantime, I encourage you to read Olivia Haselwood’s reporting on the Leader websites. She’s an Augusta native who gives me great hope for the next generation of journalists.

So why did I ask for a police report in the first place? When I watched Chief Brewer’s interview with KWCH-TV in which he stated that his and his family’s lives had been threatened if he didn’t “take care” of the officer who shot and killed a veteran’s dog, I thought about what I would do if someone threatened to kill my family and me. The very first thing I would do is file a police report even if I was a cop. Even though threat reports are often a low priority for law enforcement agencies — and, in most cases, they probably should be — it is crucial to document a threat for a few good reasons.

The main reason is to give detectives a strong clue should the worst happen and the caller carries out the threat. A time, a date, a phone number, what the caller said, whether it was a male or female — all of those bits of information give detectives a starting point if a suspect is on the loose. If the suspect is in custody, investigators can use those clues to match him or her to the threat. That goes a long way toward proving premeditation in a homicide case and the fact that the victim or a member of the victim’s family memorialized information about the threat soon after it occurred strengthens that evidence in the minds of judges and jurors. It’s almost like a “dying declaration”.

Another reason to file a report is to launch an investigation of the threat. I’m not intimately familiar with the legalities of obtaining call trace information from phone companies, but I understand it can be had. Just about any action one takes over phone lines or the Internet can be traced. Making a threatening phone call to a police chief (or anyone) could be charged as a felony for criminal threat and as a misdemeanor for telephone harassment. And it should be! I can tell you that if it happened to me, I would take a civil judgment against the perpetrator for intentional infliction of emotional distress among other torts and obtain a restraining order.

The final reason to file a police report: It lends credibility to the accuser because the report is made under penalty of law. In Kansas, filing a false police report is considered interference with law enforcement and is a Class A misdemeanor. When one has a car accident, the insurance adjuster always wants a copy of the police report. One reason is that the report lends credibility to the insurance claimant because he or she was willing to sign off on a police report concerning the circumstances of the accident.

Police officers who are caught filing a false report can find themselves out of a job permanently or, at the very least, disciplined. There has been quite a bit of news coverage in Wichita concerning the so-called Brady-Giglio list. Being on this list likely ended the career of Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams. Williams had been disciplined for a rather minor report-writing error years ago. That was enough to get him on a list of officers who had credibility issues. The list is shared with defense attorneys if the officer is to testify at trial. Depending on the severity of the transgression, the attorney may use the information at trial to question the officer’s credibility.

Gentle reader, you are free to reach any conclusion you will concerning the absence of a Kansas Standard Offense Report in this case. Maybe there’s an investigation of the threat going on. Maybe there’s not. I certainly hope there is and that the individual who made this threat is swiftly and certainly brought to justice if, indeed, the incident occurred as the chief described it to KWCH-TV.

As for the incident that precipitated this screed, it’ll be up to the courts to decide what occurred on April 13 when the dog was shot. If I were the dog owner, I would hire an attorney named Richard Ney to defend me if I could afford him. If I were the Augusta city prosecutor, I might consider tearing up those tickets and buying Alan Fitzgerald a new dog.

ADPS Fails To Respond To Open Records Request

By Lee White

In the days and weeks since an Augusta Department of Public Safety (ADPS) officer shot and killed a dog belonging to a veteran, the department has done everything in its power to make me question its version of events. The official story as reported by multiple media outlets: The dog managed to break through a screen door and lunge aggressively at the cop and an animal control officer. The officer, fearing for their lives, shot the dog.

At first, I tended to believe the officer’s story. I even said so publicly. Then ADPS Chief Tyler Brewer and perhaps others on the department became involved. First, there was this report that some people who wanted to organize a candlelight vigil for the deceased canine were threatened with arrest. Then, Brewer told the news media that he and others on the department had received death threats as a result of the dog shooting. Brewer told KWCH-TV in this interview that a phone caller threatened his life and that of his family if the chief didn’t “take care of” the officer who shot the dog.

After I watched that interview, I sent a written request under the Kansas Open Records Act to the ADPS, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI), and the Butler County Sheriff’s Department. The letter sought the release of the front page of any Kansas Standard Offense Report filed by Brewer or anyone with the same last name between April 13 — the date of the shooting — and the date the letter arrived at the agencies, which was April 24. The requested document is unquestionably public information, as both the form itself and the attorney general’s website indicate.

The sheriff’s department and the KBI responded within three days, as the Open Records Act requires (click here). The ADPS has yet to respond at all.

The act also requires agencies denying access to records to provide, upon request, a written explanation for that denial including the legal grounds upon which the agency based its decision. On Monday, I sent this letter via overnight mail to Augusta City Manager Josh Shaw and Mayor Matt Childers requesting such an explanation. It arrived today, so Friday is the deadline for the city’s response.

The ball is squarely in the court of Shaw, Childers, and the Augusta City Council. If they fail to respond to yet another lawful request under the Open Records Act, they will face both legal and political consequences. If the document isn’t on file with the ADPS, then say it isn’t on file, just as the KBI and the sheriff’s department did. If it does exist, then either produce it forthwith or cite a legal reason for keeping it under wraps. It’s as simple as that. Anything else will illustrate that ADPS is a rogue department.

Watchdog Files Open Records Requests In Augusta Threats Case

By Lee White

((UPDATE 4/25/2017: The Butler County Sheriff’s Department reports that it has no such complaints on file.))

((UPDATE 4/28/2017: The Kansas Bureau of Investigation reports that it hasn’t yet received any such complaints.))

I filed written requests today under the Kansas Open Records Act with the Augusta Department of Public Safety, the Butler County Sheriff’s Department, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The requests, filed by certified mail, seek the front page of any Kansas Standard Offense Report filed between April 13 and today by Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief Tyler Brewer or anyone from Augusta with the same last name.

Under the Open Records Act, the agencies have three business days to respond in writing to the request by providing the requested record, declaring that the record does not exist, or citing a state law that closes the record to public inspection. The front page of a Kansas Standard Offense Report is known to be a public record. That fact is clearly printed on the form, as one can see by clicking here.

I made the request because Brewer asserted in two media reports, including this one from KWCH-TV and this one in The Wichita Eagle, that he and his family had been the subject of a death threat following an ADPS officer’s shooting of a dog. I chose to send requests to these agencies because one is Brewer’s own department and the other two — the KBI and the sheriff’s office — would be departments a law enforcement officer might call upon to act as a neutral third party in an investigation. As of this writing, I have not received a response from any of the three agencies.

A death threat against any law enforcement officer and his family is serious business. Anyone who is desperate or crazy enough to pick up a telephone and make such a threat knowing full well that technology exists to trace the call needs to be hunted down and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Lives of others in the community could be in jeopardy should one of these nut cases try to make good on a threat. The public needs to know that an investigation is, indeed, underway and providing a copy of basic information about the case is the best form of reassurance.

Ethics Commission: Herzet Contributions Didn’t Violate Law


By Lee White

The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has ruled that there was insufficient evidence of probable cause that Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet intentionally violated campaign finance statutes alleged in a complaint I filed in November. Click here to read the original blog post about the complaint, which contains much of the evidence I presented to the commission.

The complaint (click here to read it) alleged that Herzet had accepted in-kind — or merchandise — contributions that were improperly made in the names of owners, family members, and employees of Graphic Concepts, Inc. It also alleged that Herzet’s campaign finance report did not list the occupations of the contributors, which it clearly did not (see above). Finally, the complaint alleged that Herzet accepted an aggregate amount from a person that exceeded the $500 legal limit. The total of contributions from individuals connected with Graphic Concepts was $3,500.

Naturally, I’m disappointed in the commission’s decision. I believe there certainly was enough evidence that the occupations of the contributors were not listed on the campaign finance report form. The spaces to report their occupations were, as you can see, left blank. I also believe I presented enough evidence from Herzet’s and Graphic Concepts’ own Facebook pages to show that at least some of the in-kind contributions “more probably than not” — which is a good definition of “probable cause” — came from Graphic Concepts itself and not from the individual contributors listed on Herzet’s report.

I believe the evidence also showed that Herzet knew at least some of the merchandise came from Graphic Concepts and that Graphic Concepts knew it and not individual family members or employees provided it. Consider the Facebook image (below) submitted to the ethics commission, which Graphic Concepts captioned, “A little bit of campaign items Sheriff Herzet ordered from us!” It shows the truck wrap that Herzet’s report claims came from Spencer Owens.

It doesn’t bother me that Sheriff Herzet won’t get it trouble as a result of the complaint’s being dismissed. I am concerned, however, that this case will embolden corporations to give other candidates in-kind contributions in the names of employees, relatives, or even people with no connection whatsoever to the businesses.

At least some of these statutes alleged to have been violated in my complaint required that the candidate or contributors “knowingly” committed the violations. Maybe that was why the commission made the decision that it did. If the laws are indeed that weak, the Kansas Legislature needs to fix them. Otherwise, after reading about this case, it won’t be long before political operatives from every corner of the map set up sham corporations to funnel as many truck wraps, signs, and flyers as they wish to campaigns big and small.

The ethics commission, by law, considers this matter confidential. Clearly, I do not. I believe this case reveals a serious deficiency in Kansas campaign finance law — one that could easily be exploited by any party or candidate, even a “fringe” one. That is why I’m publishing a blog post about it and including documentation related to the complaint.

I hope somebody in the Legislature will see that the statutes need to be rewritten. What happened in a small-town sheriff’s race may be of little statewide consequence, but the same scenario that played out here could easily occur in a governor’s race. Do the Republicans, who hold the governor’s office and majorities in both houses of the Legislature, really believe the Democrats or some fringe element won’t try something similar? Or are the Republicans willing to bet their appointees on the ethics commission will somehow find probable cause if they file a complaint?

#chuckzuck On Inauguration Day

By Lee White

I’m going to tell y’all something that will probably cost me some friendships. At the very least, there will be people I’ve known for decades who will think ill of me and probably speak ill of me either to my face or behind my back.

I voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States on November 8, 2016. So did my wife, Sherri. It wasn’t because we have a great deal of admiration for her character or her economic policies. It came down to her social agenda versus that of the Republicans. Having many close LGBT friends, we just couldn’t in good conscience support a candidate who might gut recent reforms put in place to protect them from discrimination.

But the voters have spoken and elected Donald Trump president. The Democrats, apparently failing to understand that they lost the election because they betrayed large sections of their political base and not just in 2016, have blamed the Russians for costing Clinton the election by conducting a disinformation campaign — in other words, planting “fake news.”

In response, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, has appointed a panel of experts to label certain information as fake and even to keep it from showing up as readily on the site. You’d still be able to post a link to a story deemed “fake,” but the story might be labeled as such. Here’s the more sinister part: The link also might not show up in your friends’ Facebook feeds or in search results, so the only way anyone would see it would be if he or she visited your page directly. That would severely curtail the number of eyeballs on that link.

I’m going to give you two links to read more about Zuckerberg’s plans: This one from the New York Times and this one from Alex Jones’ Infowars. I’m going to let you decide which version to believe and where the “facts” from each intersect. This I’m doing because I believe you, Gentle Readers, are intelligent enough to spot BS on your own and, if not, to suffer the consequences just as I did when I fell for this ruse about a biscuit can exploding in a shoplifter’s vagina.

If all Facebook does is limit access to “exploding biscuit” stories, which are designed to drive traffic to clickbait sites that make their money when visitors click on advertisements, that would be fine. I don’t believe, however, that Facebook will stop there. I know the sting of censorship all too well and so do others.

A Circle High School student told me he was ordered to stop displaying a Donald Trump banner at Tuesday night’s basketball game against Buhler. Flinthills Services also filed a frivolous complaint against me with the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services after I reported on a developmentally-disabled client who had signed over his property rights to the county-funded agency. The mainstream media in Wichita and Butler County have failed to report on these stories.

Some readers, particularly Democrats, are probably asking, “What’s the big deal?” They may even believe that Facebook’s initiative is a good thing that will serve their political interests well in the coming years. They fail to consider that censorship will eventually reach their back yard.

Most of my Democratic friends supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. Many Sanders supporters believe he got a raw deal from party leaders, even going so far as to say that the election was rigged against him. What’s to stop Zuckerberg’s panel of experts from branding stories as fake if they support a Democratic primary candidate they don’t like in 2020 or beyond? The answer is, “nothing.”

Facebook is a business. As such, the type of censorship it proposes is perfectly legal because the First Amendment exists to shield the public only from government restrictions on free speech. But those of us who use Facebook also have the right to stop doing business with Facebook if we do not agree with its policies. We grant Facebook a tremendous amount of power over our lives by posting life events, photos, and other personal information to its massive network of servers. It is time to take some of that power back.

Please join me on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, in disabling your Facebook account. Click here for instructions on how to do so. You may also download my Facebook profile picture above and use it as your own. Click here for a direct link to the file, or you Windows users may simply right click on it and select “Save image as.”

Facebook has been a wonderful tool for me to stay in touch with family and with friends old and new. It has also allowed me to get the message out concerning issues I feel strongly about. Although I don’t always agree when others do the same, I don’t want anyone but me telling me what is truth. I don’t trust the news media to do this for me because of the experiences I have had both as a reporter and while blogging. I realize I risk Facebook revoking my user account and maybe even suing me for undertaking this protest, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.

One of my journalism instructors likened censorship to Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Fog:”

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
It is up to us, my fellow Americans, to be the foghorn.

The Real Reason To Hate The Media

By Lee White

I saw that bumper sticker the other day — the one that reads, “I DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!” That thing has been around since the Reagan Administration. The first time I saw it, I was a young reporter doing afternoon traffic reports in Wichita. There it was on a dumpy little clunker driven by an older woman near Central and Ridge. The recent encounter made me swear time travel was possible.

After watching bits and pieces of ABC’s Election Night coverage, it is understandable why Republicans believe the media is biased toward Democrats. The commentators seemed positively incredulous at the notion that anyone had voted for Donald Trump — let alone that he was beating Hillary Clinton. She was clearly smarter, better organized, better qualified and all the cool people were voting for her. Except some of them didn’t. A lot of them didn’t. The media came face to face with the reality that their grip on the nation’s collective psyche is slipping away and they weren’t taking it well.

The media probably are biased toward liberals, but they are also biased toward incumbent politicians and the bureaucrats they hire or appoint. Reporters love the status quo and one needn’t venture far from Butler County to prove that assertion. Never in my 51 years have I encountered so many journalists so positively enamored with “the way things are” than I have in the Wichita metropolitan area.

All reporters, to some extent, are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertisers feed them money. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of car dealers. Public officials feed them information. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of, well, anything.

Reporters have become so afraid that politicians and especially cops will cut off easy access to routine stories and sound bites that they won’t risk running any coverage that might embarrass sources even if the public good demands otherwise.

Time and again during the nearly six months this blog has been in existence, I’ve broken stories that needed to be told. Examples:

  • The whistleblower lawsuit against Flinthills services and the retaliation I faced as a result of reporting on it,
  • A dispute between the Augusta Department of Public Safety director and Rose Hill officials,
  • The fact that the EMS director lives almost as far away from Butler County as I do,
  •  The real reason an Augusta cop left the department and the fact that he continued to work for the chief’s private business long after,
  • Turnover in the EMS and sheriff’s departments, and
  • Questionable donations to Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign.

The only story the mainstream media covered at all was turnover at the sheriff’s department and only after it became the central issue in the campaign. Even when there was little left for reporters to do but make a few phone calls and use this blog as political “cover” for running a story, they wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Granted, I started this blog as a way to help a friend, Walker Andrews, get elected sheriff. I’ve never lied about that or tried to hide it. I also involve myself in stories and offer opinions in ways mainstream journalists wouldn’t. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not and that I never really wanted to be in the first place.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the mainstream media being “liberal,” “conservative,” or refusing to do stories because they don’t want to offend a source or an advertiser. But, for the love of God, don’t pretend to be an unbiased source of information or an occupier of the moral high ground.

You’re not on my side. You don’t have my back. And the only thing anyone should expect more of is the same. And don’t think I’m picking on TV stations. It’s just that most newspapers don’t have catchy slogans. What some papers do have that broadcast outlets usually don’t is people who are capable of investigative reporting and in-depth writing. Unfortunately, they also have editors and publishers who won’t allow those people to use their skills to hold the powerful accountable.

If traditional media are going to abandon their, uh, watchdog role — and sources and advertisers are going to utilize the stick and carrot to make sure they do — something will fill the void. People, corporations, and even government agencies will tell their own stories via social media. Rogue reporters will start blogs. Special interest group “think tanks” such as the Kansas Policy Institute will similarly circumvent the media. Before you know it, there is no more “bubble headed bleach blonde who comes on at five.”

Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme. I mean, how relevant could she be in an age when news breaks at the speed of light on cyber platforms that didn’t even exist until the second Bush Administration? By the time five o’clock rolls around, everybody already knows what’s going to be in tomorrow’s newspaper if the presses even run the next day. And the news comes on at 4 p.m. because the stations that carried Oprah have never found a suitable syndicated replacement.

So hate the lamestream media if you will, but do so for the right reason. Loathe them not for the information they bring you but for that which they do not.

Better still, instead of hating the media — even if the media you hate is me — BECOME the media. Develop a following. Learn how to dig up facts. Write or speak or photograph or shoot video of what you believe isn’t getting enough coverage. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Sounds trite, but be the change you want to see in the world.

That’s what we’re doing with Watchdog. I thank you for being part of our growing audience.