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Ex-reporter’s view

To the editor:

Darvin Markley nudged me to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at the top of a Marion City Council meeting in August.

I politely stood my ground — just not literally. I stubbornly stayed seated at the press table from which I’d worked since Aug. 8, 2022.

At the next council meeting, two weeks later, Ruth Lange approached me to ask why I no longer stood or recited the pledge. My not doing so offended her.

I understood, but I also explained that I simply couldn’t stomach uttering the words “with liberty and justice for all” after law enforcement officers, led by now former chief Gideon Cody, violated my constitutional rights Aug. 11.

Where was my liberty? Where was my justice? Far more important, where was Joan Meyer’s?

I assured Ruth I would gladly stand and recite the pledge I learned 51 years ago anywhere else.

But at City Hall, where Mayor David Mayfield for six long weeks refused to take action against the chief of “his” police department at a meeting of “his” council?

I couldn’t and wouldn’t. Not there, not in front of Mayfield, Zach Collett, Kevin Burkholder, and now interim police chief Zach Hudlin, the officer who carted off my computer and opened my desk drawers, discovering a file I’d kept about Cody since April 21.

Hudlin filled out an evidence sticker that, in his own writing, identified Kari Newell as a “victim” and me as a “suspect.”

Zach is smart and funny, and I have no personal disdain for him. But at no time did I access Newell’s driving record or try to “steal” her identity.

My colleagues and I were never suspects, and Newell certainly wasn’t a victim, because no crimes occurred.

As you’ve recently likely read in these or other newspapers’ pages, seen on TV, or heard on radio, I no longer work at the Record.

Just like Cody, I resigned. Here’s why: Not only did I not feel safe in Marion after he yanked my personal cell phone out of my right hand — the hand I use to take notes, by the way — with a look of utter contempt for me, I realized I no longer wanted to work in a town where a majority of “leaders” clearly don’t respect the Fourth Estate or the U.S. Constitution.

Journalism is a noble profession, and I knew in third grade I wanted it to be mine.

Journalists hold people accountable. We help readers better understand decisions public officials make. We give voice to those who have none. We work ridiculous hours for low pay.

When I first called Collett to let him know several of Cody’s former Kansas City Police Department subordinates had reached out to me about concerns regarding the former K.C. captain, Collett had the gall to scold me for doing my job, heatedly asking several times, “Why are you still digging into this?” as if he were my supervisor.

He then “punished” me by informing me he that he thought we had started to develop a “good” relationship but that those days were over.

Apparently it was a privilege that he had answered my questions for a brief period.

Here’s the truth: Mayfield offered the chief position to Cody not even 24 hours after he and two city council members interviewed him and two other candidates — local officers Duane McCarty and Chris Mercer — for all of 55 minutes each.

That was the city’s initial hiring process — until I started asking questions and Collett eventually decided someone should at least make a one-call effort to vet Cody.

I underwent more rigorous background checks for minimum wage jobs I held in high school and college.

With 35 years of reporting experience in Kansas, Wyoming, and Indiana — much of that time spent writing about city, county, state and federal government — I can say without hesitation that Marion’s government was the most poorly run operation I covered.

Add a group of vocal residents who believe they represent the entire town in their distaste for the Record and its staff (these people are a minority; they only think they are a majority), and it became tiring quickly.

I will miss many people — the first person who comes to mind is Bob Delk — whom I had the privilege to meet in Marion County.

But those whose salaries taxpayers pay? With the exception of a small handful of public employees not blinded by bias — the first person who comes to mind is Undersheriff Larry Starkey — the answer is a quick and easy no.

That’s because I came to a conclusion my first week on the job: There’s something in the water in Marion, but it isn’t transparency.

Shame on everyone involved in the now infamous raids.

Shame on “leaders” who clearly have no respect for the Kansas Open Records Act or Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Shame on pompous residents and business owners who think they are better than anyone else.

Standing together, you made Marion an international joke.

In the Aug. 10, 2022, issue of this paper, I wrote the following words in a story introducing myself: “I won’t start anything, but, oh, will I finish it.”

I’ve never suffered fools.

Some might want to dig around for that issue, and in the words of Cody, “bag it and tag it, boys.”

Deb Gruver
Wichita

After sending this letter, Gruver called to say that she might, from time to time, be willing to come back to Marion to cover a feature story for us over the weekend — provided it has nothing to do with government or law enforcement.

Last modified Oct. 13, 2023

 

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