This week, the Independent Mail publishes a report that represents several months’ work for two reporters in our newsroom. It also represents the core mission of this and every local newspaper – to hold our elected and appointed government officials accountable.
We do this because you often don’t have the time or patience to find public records and sort through them, or to talk to the officials who oversee the day-to-day operations of your community. We do it also because we care about the communities we live in.
This story developed because Kirk Brown and Nikie Mayo regularly check court records for interesting or important cases. It’s representative of what all good reporters do. In the course of their routine checks, Brown and Mayo found a pattern: A number of lawsuits had been filed against the city of Anderson or the Anderson Police Department over the course of a year.
Some of the suits had been settled. We later found that City Council, the people you elect to oversee what city government is doing, was not aware of the suits or the settlements.
Mayo and Brown spent weeks reviewing personnel records and lawsuits, interviewing plaintiffs and attempting to interview the people appointed to watch over the public’s business. Police Chief Jim Stewart and City Manager Linda McConnell declined to sit down with us and talk about the cases. McConnell told our reporters that Stewart would speak for the city. Chief Stewart offered a bulleted list of answers to questions we submitted via email.
Our stories include a list of the questions we asked on your behalf along with Stewart’s answers.
Journalists typically decline to participate in email interviews. Our list of questions is never complete because, as you know, during a conversation, follow-up questions come up that demand answers. Further, emailed answers are rarely satisfying or complete.
Everything you read in this report comes from the public record or from interviews we conducted with people named in the stories. It’s real, documented news.
This report is not meant to impugn the good work city police officers do every day. Our local law enforcement agencies are vital to public safety and as members of the community we appreciate their work. But when officers’ actions result in a lawsuit, your elected leaders and the people who will pay that settlement – you – need to know.
The Anderson Police Department spends $8 million a year in tax money. The money pays for a lot of things, including officers’ salaries and the insurance premiums that helped cover the cost of these settlements.
Because police officers – and every city official – works for you, you deserve to know how every penny is spent and how your employees conduct themselves. Those officials have a responsibility to make sure you know.
I hope this series of stories gives you a glimpse into how your tax dollars are being spent and the way your city operates.
We take our role seriously, and we will continue to produce reporting that answers questions all of us should be asking about how our communities’ leaders are serving the public.