• Last modified 41 days ago (June 13, 2024)


We’re off to see
the wizard

Kansas natives transplanted to other parts of the globe often grow weary of being bombarded by references to Dorothy, ruby slippers, and the Yellow Brick Road. I hope no one will want to drop a house on me if I make such an allusion this week.

A favorite scene occurs at a long-sought-after audience in Emerald City. Toto rips a curtain to the side, revealing the Wizard. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” the Wizard promptly shouts.

It’s a phrase that has special meaning to journalists. We love to pull back curtains. We’re even used to people referring to us by the same four-word “son of a . . .” phrase that literally applies to Toto as the offspring of a female dog.

This week’s story about Marion’s water quality report isn’t something that just came up. We became aware of violations weeks ago and have spent a great amount of time trying to get officials to talk to us about them.

Apparently, none of the public relations officers employed by the state learned a lesson routinely taught in Public Relations 101. It’s the “Extra-Strength Tylenol Rule.”

The pain reliever became a pain in the rear for Tylenol’s P.R. people when saboteurs tainted multiple bottles on store shelves. But the P.R. people smartly didn’t stonewall with “no comment,” huddle with lawyers, insist that they didn’t want to interfere with an investigation, or otherwise try to delay and obfuscate.

Instead, they were forthright and honest, answering any question and always trying to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It saved their brand — and maybe their souls — by putting openness and honesty ahead of drawing the curtain closed and hiding.

As Richard Nixon became acutely aware, it’s rarely the misdeed itself that kills you. It’s the cover-up. Yet almost everyone associated with the water quality story we’re reporting this week seemed insistent on refusing to answer questions, making the notion of a cover-up quite plausible.

Bureaucrats often try to make things go away by shoving the heads of those asking about them into the sand and treating the public as powerless ostriches. If bureaucrats can stall long enough, they seem to believe, people will forget. Too often, people do. But in the process, they often lose their faith in democracy and their ability to discern facts from opinions, leading society to the polarized mess it’s in today.

Seeing yet another example of this made us wonder what became of other stories stonewalled out of the public’s consciousness.

Remember the Locust St. bridge that four years ago was deemed in such bad shape that city officials worried the street might need to be closed? A grant to fix it was approved more than a year and a half ago, but it still sits there, perilously undermined.

Remember the drainage district where people had managed to avoid paying property taxes because they didn’t live within it but still were allowed to vote as if they did? They’re still on the voter list and still absent from the property tax list.

Remember the discussion at the start of last year when Marion City Council and the city attorney agreed that the city’s charter ordinances were so screwed up it was unclear whether the mayor could vote and whether a vacancy on the council could be filled? The council voted to re-examine the ordinances, and four new council members who took office a year later vowed to make it one of their first orders of business. Six months later, no one has mentioned the subject in a council meeting.

Remember the Catholic section of Marion’s Highland Cemetery that inexplicably was transferred back to the city instead of the diocese and started accepting burials by non-Catholics? No one could explain why, and no one did anything about it.

Remember how the county failed to publish six of seven quarterly reports? To date, it’s published two. Where are the four others?

Remember just last week how city officials couldn’t find the asking price for a business park lot the county wanted to buy? The price is on the city’s own website — the same site where the water quality report was posted. All you have to do is search for “business park.” (It’s $7,000, by the way, not the $1,000 the county offered.)

The list could go on. And it undoubtedly will, unless more people become willing to share in our being labeled as offspring of Toto’s mom. Democracy isn’t just about smiling broadly and giving public employees more holidays and bigger raises. It’s about asking questions and demanding answers.

It’s time all of us realize that our brain, heart, and courage come from within and stop waiting for some wizard to bestow them.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified June 13, 2024