Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bottoms Up

Is it just me or are more of those people we elect to office making the news for drunken or drugged behavior? Wisconsin Assemblyman Jeff Wood was recently arrested for his 4th OWI. State troopers pulled him over in the Town of Rib Mountain. This time prescription and non-prescription drugs led to his erratic driving. Two of his arrests have occurred within the last year. Earlier this year I asked a fellow Assemblyman about Wood and all that lawmaker could say is, “That young man needs our prayers.”

Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan on the other hand didn’t break any laws when he was caught on video making sexual remarks about his sister-in-law. It became a YouTube sensation. He was definitely drunk in the barroom exchange with drinking buddies.

One law enforcement officer I spoke with says he feels sorry for Ryan because he was obviously filmed in the tavern on someone’s cell phone with no clue what was going on. That officer said while Ryan may have crossed the line with his remarks, he said them in what he thought was a private conversation. Ryan is also under fire for allegedly firing a human resources director who claims she was let go for refusing his sexual advances.

It’s not making national news, but an incident in the Upper Peninsula definitely caught headlines in my hometown of Manistique. An Alger and Schoolcraft County Probate Judge was arrested for drunken driving in July. Manistique is the County seat for Schoolcraft County. Judge Charles Nebel was over the limit and tried to get away from state troopers at speeds of over 100 miles per hour. He apologized later saying he used bad judgment. Ironic isn’t it.

Recently Nebel was sentenced to a year’s probation, weekend “impact programs” and had to pay over $1,200 in fines and court costs. He could also face judicial review. He was appointed to the bench this past February. If he runs for re-election it will be in November of 2010. It will be interesting to see what punishment awaits Wisconsin Assemblyman Jeff Wood. He gets an oral ruling on his 3rd OWI in Columbia County Court in December.

Recently a story was shared with me about a longtime Wisconsin lawmaker who took credit for another colleague’s work on a bill by reintroducing it with a few minor changes as his own. He was to have his moment in the spotlight, but instead another lawmaker called him on it asking him why he was taking credit for something they’d already seen before. It wasn’t an effort to show him up, just to get his goat. Several of his colleagues knew he got hammered the night before and wanted to see him suffer through his hangover.

Keep in mind Wisconsin legislators are working on a package to stiffen penalties for drunken driving. Maybe we should take the car keys away from them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Share the Story, Share the Blame!

Information sharing in this day and age can be a tricky thing. I found that out recently when I received an e-mail from someone who was disappointed that we carried some names in a story about a murder-suicide apparently before the names were officially released. The last thing I want to do is be the bearer of bad tidings to a family before they are notified through official channels. How I made that mistake takes a little explaining.

We share stories with about six other radio stations in the state, the Associated Press, and the Wisconsin Radio Network. Consequently we use stories that others share with us. Such was the case involving a couple from Horicon. You know what they say about assuming. Well I didn’t see a problem with the information I got from another station we share stories with. Now that I think back on it I probably know where they got their information.

The Dodge and Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Departments are kind enough to send us copies of their daily logs each day. Each log contains information from calls for service. Some times it’s brief, but can contain names and addresses that aren’t generally shared with the public. There’s an implied understanding that sensitive information shouldn’t be passed along without first checking with the law enforcement agency. That’s usually in cases involving crimes or accidents in which a person or people are killed or injured. Or for that matter someone commits a crime, but hasn’t been charged yet. Discretion comes into play.

I’ve seen radio and television stations, and newspapers use information from those logs as sources for a story. Anyone that’s ever heard a drama unfold on a police radio knows that you should wait until the smoke clears before you start using details that are uttered or written in the heat of the moment. The logs I’m sent I typically use as leads or to confirm details I’ve already gotten about a story. When a propane tanker recently overturned on a Fond du Lac County highway I heard the original call on a scanner, called a Sheriff’s Captain to confirm, and later when writing the story I checked back on the Sheriff’s log from the morning to get the time of call.

Over the years I’ve learned enough to know that whatever story you do it’s bound to have an impact on someone listening to it or reading it. If it concerns a death, I’m more than willing to wait until the family has been notified by law enforcement. However some of my colleagues aren’t. So if they are a bit premature in their reporting and they share the story with me, then we’re both to blame. Anyone who browses the Internet can you tell you there’s a lot of information available. The danger is it may not be correct or worse ethical.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Number One On The Water

I've never covered a story that so physically and emotionally drained me as what has gone on with Mercury Marine in the last few weeks. From dawn to dusk and beyond I had to be on call for any breaking development as the company considered whether it would continue to make outboard motors in Fond du Lac.

Anyone who has followed the news knows that too many manufacturing jobs have left Wisconsin. It looked like Mercury and its 70 year history in the state would be another casualty. However as we've seen in Fond du Lac over the last few years the community is resilient and there's just some special element that allows us to bounce back from adversity.

Three union workers Fred Toth, Felipe Rodriguez, and Rick Schmidt got a lot of credit for their petition drive and effort to get a revote after union workers rejected Mercury's proposed contract changes. I won't dispute that important contribution, but also know that city, state, and county officials, union leaders, and Mercury executives continued to talk. If they hadn't there wouldn't have been a third vote and eventual passage of the contract that will save manufacturing jobs and bring others to the city.

The toughest day was early that Sunday morning after a second vote attempt ended short. Union members stood in the parking lot at Machinists Lodge 1947 tired, frustrated, angry. The community awoke that Sunday morning to news that hopes had been dashed. I went home at 3:30 that morning after reporting from the union hall most of the night. All seemed lost for retaining Mercury's manufacturing jobs.

That following Tuesday Mercury and union officials met and decided there would be a third vote. It seemed there was still a glimmer of hope. Constant visits to the union hall this past Thursday and Friday I got different reactions from those who voted. At first I was guardedly optimistic, but was still surprised Friday night when union leaders announced that the contract had been ratified. Mercury would stay in Fond du Lac.

Unlike a football game the losers wouldn't simply lick their wounds and practice for the next game. Stillwater, Oklahoma residents felt more than slighted. After all three votes on a union contract. Sorry, but this is where I admit to being biased. I was not pro-Union, not-pro Mercury, but pro-Fond du Lac during this entire drama.

I went home this past Friday night shortly before midnight still sorting out my emotions. It had been an 18 hour work day. I felt for the union workers that had to make their own sacrifices to save their jobs and preserve other jobs for years to come. I also feel that Mercury officials did not want to make a decision to leave Fond du Lac, a community that has supplied a hard working and loyal workforce to it for the better part of 70 years. I also rejoiced for community leaders who knew what kind of impact Mercury leaving would have had on thousands of residents.

Of course there's still the matter of city and county officials finalizing incentive packages for Mercury, but the biggest sacrifice has already been made by Mercury's union employees. If city council and county board members can't realize that then they really should consider whether they are truly watching out for the best interests of those they represent.

I may never be able to watch a pickup truck pulling a boat and trailer with a Mercury motor go by on a highway again and not feel a twinge of pride in what this community has accomplished. As County Executive Al Buechel put it, we did not want to become the “Detroit” of Wisconsin. Amen!