McIntosh Mirror: Reflecting news in the Tosh

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04.12.07 -- REPORT: Town shuts reporter out of town-DEP joint meeting to discuss water

By CHER PHILLIPS

At 10 a.m. this morning, I was shut out of the McIntosh-Department of Environmental Protection water meeting by the town and the state department.

When I drove up this morning to the town office, town clerk Debbie Miller turned the open sign over to closed.

She asked what I was there for and I told her I wanted to observe the meeting between the town and the DEP.

I first learned of the meeting late last Friday from a concerned resident who called my home to ask if I knew there was a closed meeting planned between the town and the EPA. I then called the town council president, Frank Ciotti. The meeting is actually with the Florida DEP -- rather than the EPA - a federal environmental agency.

In a phone interview, Ciotti said that he didn't think they would have a problem with someone observing. At that time, he said several council members were planning to attend, which would have made the meeting subject to Florida's open meetings laws.

On Monday, Ciotti sent an e-mail to me saying only one council member would be attending an didn't want any guests. He did not reply to my follow-up e-mail asking if I could attend the meeting or not. Town Clerk Debbie Miller forwarded an e-mail from Dan Shideler, Environmental Specialist for the DEP.

"This is not a town meeting where I am involved in a Q&A with the town members. This is me coming out there to let the people in charge of the municipality know what their responsiblities [sic] are to DEP and the public," Shideler wrote.

Shideler said this morning that he was there to let town officials know what they needed to do with there was an "issue."

I asked if there were any "issues" in McIntosh. He said no.

The town has suffered from a water system failure and problems in the last two weeks resulting in periods of zero water pressure.

When I asked Miller, Shideler and Council Vice President Howard Walkup each if I could attend this meeting and observe, not asking questions, I was told no and turned away.

I specifically asked Walkup, "As a Council member, will you allow me to observe this meeting for the town?"

Walkup said, "No, this is not a public meeting."

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Cher @ 11:06 AM,

8 Comments:

At   April 12, 2007 8:01 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Reporter's don't have to be at every town function.

 
At   April 12, 2007 9:34 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

doesn't sound like much of an issue to me. Glad they are keeping up on things to make sure nothing happens in the future.

 
At   April 13, 2007 4:57 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

I respectfully disagree with both of the above comments. Florida has a law titled: Government in the Sunshine. It clearly says that ANY discussion other than certain matters of law and personnel MUST be open to the people. The only way this could have been exempt from the law is if Howard and Marsha did not attend - then it would have been an administrative matter for the town clerk to deal with. Unfortunatly, the politicians had to micro-manage.

 
At   April 13, 2007 9:49 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Lets see, no one wants the job of councilman and every time they turn around folks are asking them whats going on, but the folks asking, are not helping just looking for malace or something. Our elected officials need a break, Frank, Howard and Lee are not going to do anything wrong,and Marsha has been there for 25 years so shut up will you.

 
At   April 13, 2007 10:11 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

You left out Unice and Evajoe why? If a town council member,clerk and or Mayor are doing something wrong then yes it does need to be looked at! And by someone that is not from this town. Maybe the county!

 
At   April 14, 2007 10:54 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

How about an investigation by the Governor? This type of Shenanigan may cost the Town of McIntosh its Charter - How does 'unincorporated McIntosh' sound? That means no more council, no more home rule!!!

 
At   April 14, 2007 8:51 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

flash...cher gets closer to the truth, but did they teach her investagative techniques??????

let me see if i've got this right. the florida state dep had nothing better to do than to drive here from orlando,,,,,,just to tell the town they are doing a good job.. the health department didnt think so or they would not have requested the florida state dep's assistance.

 
At   April 14, 2007 10:51 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

I cut my teeth on investigative reporting covering McIntosh.

See the next story - the DEP came because of complaints. No, I don't know everyone who filed them. I'm guessing from the last comment here that maybe someone called the health department and they called the DEP, too? Or am I reading that wrong?

I've asked the DEP for a copy of the report they send to the folks who filed complaints. I will post it when I get it.

As for what someone said above about this not being much of an issue ... think about it this way, would I take a half day off work for nothing? Especially during a busy work and school time?

There are two reasons why I covered this story:

1. Water is an issue of public safety

2. A reporter being turned away from a meeting is a sure sign that something is not right. Maybe it's something that can be easily corrected, like the town failing to file reports. But why not just be honest about it, tell the people in town what's going on and get ahead of it.

If the DEP was so jazzed about the town of McIntosh in their visit, wouldn't it have been nice to have a reporter there to see THAT and reflect THAT story???

And that leads me to the next point, to the person above who mentioned malace: I would have LOVED to cover that meeting, talking about how the town triumphed over complainants trying to get them into trouble when they're just doing their best.

But you know what? I can't. I was barred from that meeting so I had to cover it by doing legwork and when I did reporting, I uncovered a DIFFERENT STORY. I have to report what I find -- that the DEP came because of complaints, that the DEP has no record of reports filed, that when asked by residents in a meeting, the council members told residents the meeting happened because the town filed a report.

To the malace-commenter, I would MUCH rather have written the stories I couldn't for this issue.

And heartfelt thank you goes out to everyone who makes comments here that support my keeping up the blog. It matters to me that someone is reading this and finding it useful, even if you don't agree with an editorial or something I post.

FYI -- I'm doing software upgrades and audio files will be available soon, as well as the rest of the reports for this month's meetings. Sorry for the delay. The semester is almost over so I'm swamped.

-Cher

 

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Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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The primary purpose of this blog is to accurately reflect what happens in town public meetings and dispel rumors. I record the meetings and make them available for download. One of the goals of this blog is to offer residents a place to voice opinions. The comments, views and opinions expressed there are not necessarily those of the editor.

 
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