My query about Missouri organizations' readiness for troop withdrawal by the end of the year began on Tuesday and I began to learn a lot about how PR representatives work.
I called the Workforce Development Division to see what they were doing to prepare for the troops to come home. Since I was speaking with the communications director I thought it would be easy information for him to give me- but this was not the case. After speaking to him twice in one day, what I got from him was- he refused to comment on any of the information I was requesting until he talked to one more person he refused to name.
I then got in contact with a Missouri National Guard colonel, Alan Rohlfing, who told me he and the Workforce Development Division communications director has been in contact all day trying to decide what to respond to my query. However, after the colonel told me this, he gave me a solid 15-minute interview in response to my question about Missouri's readiness for troops to be home for Christmas. I decided to wait till Thursday to write my wraps until I received more information for several other sources.
The first thing I did on Thursday was to get in contact with the Economic Development Department to see if I could get an answer from them since one of their divisions wouldn't talk. I soon found out the Workforce Development Division communications director's "unnamed person" was the EcoDevo Department's Communication Director John Fougere. John spoke with me for more than 10 minutes about Missouri's readiness for its troops to return home. At the end of the interview, I asked him why the Workforce Development Division couldn't comment on this and he said, "They're a division within our department. I mean in other words I'm a spokesperson for the entire department so when I speak for the department, I speak for all divisions as well. That's all that was."
After all of these interviews, I was able to compose 3 wraps: the first with Fougere's interview, the second with Rohlfing's interview and the third about the Workforce Development's Division reluctance to answer my questions. Phill told me to look further into the last wrap's topic so I plan to do just that.
Tate gave us everything we wanted to know and more. As a past legislator in Jefferson City, he understands the struggles new businesses face in their beginning stages but also knows that a company defaulting on loan payments is not a common occurrence. So what is the current state of the transmitter company? The two founders of the company don't really even know.
Brothers David and Peter Fuhr started Wi-Fi Sensors in May 2009 after receiving a one-million dollar loan with the promise to create 40 jobs immediately and grow to 100 employees. However, they employed only 15 to 20 people who were laid off within 45 to 60 days of their employment. Today, the company has yet to establish jobs or make loan payments. Nevertheless, they remain optimistic that they can pull themselves out of this economic rut. Peter admits they knew they defaulted on the payments and says they have been working with the Department of Economic Development to find a solution. A Missouri Senate committee is investigating the default on the loan and I hope to do a follow-up story on what they found.
I hope the company can succeed to help the Kirksville community but it will be a long process requiring time they don't have. Peter and David need to find a solution fast so they have something to show for themselves after putting everything they have into this business. I've been dubbing Wi-Fi Sensors as the "Mamtek of Kirksville" but I hope to be proved wrong within the next couple of months.
On Tuesday, there was little happening at the Capitol for once so I again turned to my crime beat. Stemming off two stories of police brutality on Columbia and St. Louis, Alex and I began researching police misconduct across the state of Missouri. We called over 20 police departments in the state and also tried contacting law firms that specialized in brutality and misconduct cases. The first firm I interviewed, Ryals Law Firm, spoke with me right away and gave me an honest interview. Steve Ryals said he receives police brutality cases every day. However, he only sees serious cases where a victim was seriously injured or killed not even once a month so he does not view it as an epidemic in Missouri. I also thought it was interesting he said actions by St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department were where the most complaints came from but he backed it up by saying it might just be because it is a large police department with many more officers than in other cities. I also interviewed a deputy director of Kansas City Office of Community Complaints who also did not think police brutality was a wide-spread, daily occurrence. It has decreased in the Kansas City area and most complaints regard improper arrest or citation procedures. If more people were available to interview, their information definitely would have increased the credibility of my story. By the end of the day with little sources, I thought my story was pretty weak and needed more information. This topic could be turned into an investigative, enterprise story so over the next few months I would like to look into this topic more.
Thursday was the first day since August that I did not turn a story around before I left the Capitol. Since there was nothing happening in the House or Senate, I turned to my new enterprise story under our crime beat: the heroin epidemic throughout Missouri. I called over ten Missouri county police departments and various drug organizations to see where the main problem lies and what steps are being taken to halt the wide-spread drug. This topic makes the perfect enterprise story because of its multifaceted issues such as the extremely young age group now using, why drug dealers cannot be stopped, the reason for its availability and how St. Louis City is quickly being viewed as what I like to call the "heroin hub" of Missouri. I'm excited to develop this topic more and eventually turn it around as an informative, enterprise feature that will show audiences all over Missouri how prevalent this topic is.
Since the Senate wasn't scheduled to meet till Thursday, Alex and I turned to our crime beat on Tuesday. Matt Evans told us about a story he saw on the AP wire about a kindergarten student bringing his mom's crack pipe to school for Show and Tell. We definitely wanted to delve further into this topic. It turns out, a teacher at Sweet Springs Elementary assigned her students to bring in a picture from home for a homework assignment. However, this kindergartner brought his mom's crack pipe and about $3,000 worth of methamphetamine instead. Luckily, the faculty found the paraphernalia and alerted the Sweet Springs Police Department before the student showed it to his class. Alex and I contacted the chief of police and the superintendent of the school who both gave us a lot of information about the situation. Neither really knew how to improve from this since Sweet Springs has never experienced something to this extent. I wish I could interview the boy and his mom but I understand how that would be overstepping my boundaries. I'm just curious to know how exactly the boy had this in his possession, if he even knew what it was and what the mom is saying and thinking about all of this. The student's mom will appear in court on Sept. 28 so I will follow up the story then.
It was a slow news day on Thursday till 2 p.m. when Matt Evans and I were assigned to a House economic development committee hearing met to discuss the China hub bill. The House hearing room was full with people eager to hear what the committee had to say, but the committee adjourned immediately after roll call. The rest of the day was a waiting game. Republicans from the House and Senate met in Senate Leader Rob Mayer's office to devise a plan for the rest of the special session. When their rendezvous was complete, they emerged from his office with little hope of the current special session issues being resolved. House and Senate leaders spent the day playing blame games regarding the reason why they wasted many taxpayer dollars on a special session that has little to show for itself. The two bodies said they were too split on certain issues to develop a plausible compromise. The House committee rejoined at 4:30 p.m. and yet again adjourned without discussing the China hub bill. Mayer stressed Friday was a tight deadline and was extremely disappointed where the special session currently stood. "We'll make the decision to adjourn and come back or to adjourn sine die," he said. I wrote the print story today summarizing all the "touch and go" points throughout the day and describing the extreme likelihood of the session's demise in less than 24 hours. With little optimism backing the special session, we'll have to see what tomorrow brings.
Our third week at the Capitol proved to be just as exciting as the first two. On Tuesday, Alex and I covered a House of Representatives interim committee hearing debating the modernization of 911 access in Missouri. The committee discussed various ways to improve 911 access in the state for several hours calling upon witnesses to give their personal accounts. Before this meeting, I never realized Missouri had one of the worst 911 access programs. Missouri is the only state in the U.S. without a wireless 911 fee and 18 counties in the state do not even have call centers. This shocked me because a timely response to a 911 call can save a life. What if my family, friends, co-workers, etc. needed help but no one could reach them in time? Emergency Communications Board Executive Director Lynn Questell from Tennessee presented the state's innovative 911 wireless program that they have implemented since 2005. Their program created a successful board that oversees the call centers and makes improvements as needed. The fact Missouri did not have even the beginning stages of a wireless program baffled her and others in the room from neighboring states. The committee did not decide anything but they need to have a developed report ready for the Speaker by Dec. 31.
Thursday, Jenner Smith and I came in to the office an hour early to cover an 8 a.m. Senate interim committee meeting debating a controversial health insurance exchange in Missouri. The meeting opened with various testimonies from Missouri citizens either completely relentless toward the plan or feeling that it is their only hope for affordable health care. Two hours into the meeting nothing was decided yet, but Senator Luann Ridgeway interrupted the hearing with shocking news: the executive board was holding a meeting with the Missouri Health Insurance Pool simultaneously with the interim committee hearing. The atmosphere in the Senate lounge immediately changed from laid-back to outraged at the news. Senators Jane Cunningham, Rob Schaff and Jim Lembke almost immediately left after Ridgeway's announcement to try to kill the implementation of the plan. Ridgeway was appalled at the executive board's actions saying she fears a dictatorship may govern Missouri. When Jenner and I told Phill the news, Sherman immediately sent three other reporters to the Health Insurance Pool meeting to see what was happening. At the end of the day, with five reporters revealing the secret meeting, we discovered Governor Nixon appointed Director of Insurance John Huff to organize a meeting to implement the health insurance exchange that day. If Cunningham, Schaff and Lembke had not gone to the meeting, Missouri would have had a new health insurance exchange plan the committee had not even finished discussing. Needless to say, in a matter of seconds the Capitol erupted into a chaotic catastrophe providing us with a lot of dramatic material to report.
Since Crowell used many extreme metaphors during his four-hour term on the floor, it was easy to pick the perfect soundbites for a story and start writing. Even though I was at the Capitol till nine that day, I left feeling extremely proud of what we experienced today and the stories that stemmed from it.
Thursday was not any slower than Tuesday. Because of the special session, many possible story ideas were at our fingertips so Alex and I split up: he went to the Senate and I was assigned to find anything and everything relating to law enforcement changes throughout Missouri since 9/11. This topic ended up exposing many new ways cities were making strides to increase state-wide security through communication. I interviewed more people this day than any other day yet and was able to learn about safety precautions throughout the state that I have never heard of. When I was finished with my wraps, I read my first one to Phill and he got very excited saying we might have a larger story in our hands. He told me to hold this story and further investigate it in the next week. I'm excited to see what comes of this.
The first week of the special session brought many surprises and I can't wait to see what the second week has in store for us.
Thursday was a slower news day than Tuesday and gave us a chance to work more on our beats. Alex and I covered a Missouri Highway Patrol drug bust of 132 pounds of marijuana. We learned from Tuesday and checked the marantz a couple times before we began recording our interview with the sergeant who made the arrest. It worked perfectly and we got all of the information we needed, making today much less stressful than my last time at the Capitol. I worked on the newspaper story this time so after several edits I was done for the day.
After two days as a reporter in Jeff City, I have already learned so much about reporting and Missouri politics and can't wait to see what events I get to cover throughout the semester. Alex and I are covering the crime and state budget beats so our time at the Capitol will be anything but dull. I'm very excited for this next week since the special session begins on Tuesday. I hope we get to do a follow up story on the China hub bill and can't wait to see what the senators decide this round!
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.