Happy Tuesday, readers.
Normally, I write my Monday Memo late Sunday or very early on Monday. I got behind this week, in no small part because my son was visiting from Salt Lake City (Sunday was his last night here.) I’ve gotta tell you. I am so gratified that my children are thriving.
But it never gets easier to watch them vanish through the airport doors.
On the professional front, we’ve been busy combing through some open records requests. So far, they’ve led to a couple of surprises, including Monday’s story about the city’s development deal with the mall. I requested the final 51-page agreement solely because I was curious about a hold harmless clause that was added to the agreement — basically a blank check that ensures the city pay for future environmental cleanup at the site. I thought that was significant, but what really popped out at me was the annual developer payments of $327,000 for seven years, or more than $2.28 million dollars, that were enveloped in the final agreement.
We looked through city documents and found one page in an Oct. 1 meeting packet where the figure $327,000 was mentioned as a possible annual payment, but we couldn’t find anywhere that stated it would be for seven years. It’s also a figure that wasn’t reported by any media outlet, including our own, at the time.
What I found most surprising wasn’t the money, though. It was this. When the council voted in October to move forward with the deal, that was the last time they voted on the terms of the deal. Though they were kept apprised of changes via internal email, the final version of the development agreement wasn’t reviewed in open session and wasn’t subject to a final vote.
With that much taxpayer money at stake, I think it makes more sense for council members to review and vote on the final developer agreements rather than a two-page summary.
After all, it’s your money.
We have more stories coming this week from our open records journey, so stay tuned.
Before I close, I’d like to talk about corrections and clarifications. I was taken off guard this week by a former friend who very publicly took me to task for what he perceived to be a lack of accountability when it comes to making mistakes. I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my 51 years, and I’ll certainly make more. While we strive for accuracy at all times, no one is immune to making a mistake, and I am never ashamed to admit when I’m wrong. In the handful of times over the past three years that we’ve been contacted by an official about a mistake, we have corrected our mistake and added an editor’s note to the top of the story explaining the change, telling readers why the change was made, and apologizing if the error was our own. We never take stories down completely, for a variety of reasons. We do own our mistakes, so don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you see one.
But try to remember. We’re human, too, people who have given their heart and soul to this publication because we believe in the value of local news. We care about what we do. Sometimes, we let one or two persistent internet trolls get under our skin. But in the end, we’re going to shake it off and just keep doing our jobs as best we can.
Have a great week, and thanks for reading.
Shereen Siewert, Publisher
Wausau Pilot and Review