The Inside Scoop
SEPTEMBER 14-20, 2018
It’s been a number of years since I last penned my popular and award-winning column, “The Inside Scoop,” an unadulterated look at local government and area happenings. Since then, I’ve been work
ing behind-the-scenes, navigating this company through the many changes the industry, as a whole, has faced over the past decade.
For the uninitiated, I’m a proud San Benito High School Alumnus, and current Resaca City resident whose children have attended or are attending San Benito CISD schools. I’ve been with this company for 20 years starting from the bottom shortly after receiving a bachelor’s degree and rising through the ranks, first as a cub reporter who secretly spent a night or two in his car at Stookey Park because he couldn’t afford the gas money to make it home to the upper Valley where I was residing at the time, to sports editor, feature writer, editor, marketing consultant, advertising director, general manager, publisher, and corporate board member, all before the age of 30. As you can surmise, the climb came with multiple sacrifices and hard work built upon dogged and uncompromising reporting – the type of journalism that not only won this paper awards for the first time in its history which dates back to 1930, but garnered threats and retaliation of all sorts along the way from those who preferred the public remained in the darkness. In the end, however, we broke stories that impacted this community for the better.
Over this past summer, the News received a tip from two reliable San Benito School District insiders regarding the possible suspension of a least one high level district staffer. Subsequent attempts by the News to garner the most basic facts on the matter went basically nowhere; we were told only that it is district policy to not comment on matters dealing with personnel; which, I will say, is neither entirely unusual nor false. What is unusual was the level of silence perpetrated by this district on this matter. Let’s be clear. We weren’t asking for specific names, lurid details, final judgement or condemnation of the accused by the district that early into the investigation, but, at the very least, a simple acknowledgement of the fact that some type of inquiry had indeed commenced would have sufficed. As an example, just this weekend, we awoke to a news conference regarding a tragedy in Dallas w
here an off-duty officer shot an unarmed man in his own home. Dallas officials were quick to get ahead of the story, releasing what information they could that early into the investigation, which, if you’ve been following the news, had been plenty. We, the parents, taxpayers, constituents and employees of the San Benito CISD don’t know the basics of an apparent investigation into a high level district employee months into this supposed inquiry, if there is indeed an inquiry at all. How is that possible? Does this investigation surround the alleged actions of one or multiple staff members? What are the allegations? Is (are) the accused working on-site or from home, or not all, during the investigation? Is/are he/she/them allowed to interact with stuff during this time? If he/she/them is, would that not be a violation of the district’s personnel policy? How long has he/she (them) been under investigation, if indeed there’s an investigation? Are taxpayers paying his/her/their salaries during this time (paid leave)? Is the board (the elected officials who represent us) even aware of the situation? And, if so, where do they stand? (Personally, I’d tell you, but an email sent to each board member requesting a phone interview for this piece has gone unanswered, as of press time, however we were able to communicate with board member Victor Rosas past deadline). If there is indeed an investigation, what are the investigatory methods? Who’s conducting this investigation, if indeed there is one at all? Who do the investigators answer to?
Alas, mum’s the word.
This leads us to last week’s edition of the News, which featured two stories on the collapse of an agreement between the not-for-profit Southwest Key Program, and school districts which included SBCISD after the TEA, the State’s regulatory agency for education, announced that the State was not responsible for educating children separated from their parents while attempting to cross into the US illegally and then housed at sites facilitated by Southwest Key. The district had reassigned a number of its professional staff members to this site (I’ll save my take on whether that was fair, right and ethical for these staff members for another time).
Weeks earlier, the News received a packet containing documents which included a letter addressed to Dr. Juan Sanchez, CEO of Southwest Key Program, Inc. detailing issues and concerns surrounding this district’s involvement with the program and the relocation of these district employees (the four-page letter is published in today’s edition along with a front page follow up to last week’s story with the superintendent’s response.)
After last week’s school board meeting, a freelance reporter covering the meeting on our behalf approached the district’s public relations officer requesting a comment regarding Southwest Key, not knowing that the paper had been working on another story relating to the TEA angle. In what I believe to be nothing more than an apparent miscommunication between the two, the official misunderstood the request, believing it pertained to the TEA angle which was already addressed in a press release and subsequent statements; when, in fact, the reporter was attempting to attain a response to the statements referenced in the material contained in the packet. Thus, last week’s story referencing these documents ran with a “no comment” by the district. By Friday, our lead reporter began fielding calls from district officials which included the board president, the district’s attorney and the Superintendent, Dr. Nate Carman, all relying their displeasure with the story. Later that Friday afternoon, the Superintendent contacted me directly, at which time I was able to address a number of issues including the district’s lack of transparency involving the supposed investigation of a high level district official, and by Monday we were notified that district, at the Superintendent’s behest, would not only discontinue all advertisement with the News but would cease furnishing information relating to the district, students and staff encompassed on a page within the paper dedicated to school district happenings. By Tuesday, in an apparent laughable exercise, Carman attempted to reach my company’s board chair, which leads me to ask the question: if our illustrious superintendent is taking so much time investigating me and my company, when does he have time to run the district?
But I digress, the real question is why all the backlash and blackballing over this story? Why do the kids, staff and district, as a whole, have to suffer by not featuring them in our paper? What does Carman have to gain by doing this?
Understand that the district is actively attempting to quash any information that it doesn’t control. In my opinion, that’s doing the public a great disservice and being less than forthright, all in the name of controlling the narrative, at all costs.
We owe it to our readers to be fair, to admit when things could have been done better, but also not be intimidated, and not back down. If we can’t hold the line here, and hold the district, the superintendent and the board accountable, then we’re in for some rough times ahead.