Some days, you just get chewed

Published 9:07 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

 “If the editor has not been taken to the woodshed lately, the editor is not doing her job.”

Those were the oft-repeated words of my mentor when first I had an editing job. If my trip to the proverbial woodshed last week is any indication, Mae Streit would be proud.

Alabama’s Open Meetings law, which was strengthened in the recently-ended session of the Alabama Legislature, requires elected officials, and committees and boards appointed by elected officials, to conduct business in public.

There’s nothing sexy about it; indeed, the average voter could care less … unless and until the Open Meetings Law is broken, and elected officials take actions in secret that affect those voters. On an average day, few people outside of the media care about Open Meetings, which brings me back to the woodshed.

My caller was upset by The Star-News’ coverage of recent South Alabama Regional Airport Authority board meetings, although he is not a member of that authority. He also is not an elected official.

But he spent a good 10 minutes shall we say, “sharing his thoughts” on the newspaper, me, and my apparent lack of caring for the community, which in his mind was demonstrated by the newspaper’s reporting. In full disclosure, neither he nor I were at the meeting in question, so his information was from his connections on the board; mine from our reporters.

My caller, whom I considered a friend, did not dispute the facts reported, only that we dared report them. Yes, you got that right: that we dared report ongoing issues at the airport that affect the budgets of the City of Andalusia, the City of Opp and Covington County.

For those who haven’t been tuned in, those three governments agreed to back airport authority bond issues that funded the construction of industrial buildings at the airport. The agreement then was that the three entities would make payments on the bond in the event the authority could not (i.e., the airport was not receiving lease monies for the buildings). Each of the three entities – Andalusia, Opp and Covington County – had a different elected leader at that time.

Now, the authority is working with the three entities on refinancing the bonds outside of the authority, and has been negotiating leases on the buildings. The Star-News wasn’t the only newspaper there, nor reporting; but I seem to be the only editor in the county with baggy pants this week.

I don’t disagree with him that some discussions should take place in closed session, as the Open Meetings Law allows. However, on the day in question, all of the discussions were in open meetings.

Finally, if we didn’t care about the community, we wouldn’t spend hours listening to less-than-stimulating discussions about bond issues and other issues of public finance. We wouldn’t spend our evenings at governmental meetings, even at events he feels are important. I wouldn’t have  stood in the hot sun for an hour at noon yesterday, waiting to photograph a C-130 landing, an event that means those huge hangars finally will be used for the purpose for which they were intended.

Rail on, my friend. Rail on. Our woodshed moment only affirmed that we are right to be paying attention.