My New Year’s resolution professionally is for the five Kitsap News Group newspapers to do a better job keeping track of your taxpayer dollars and being better watchdogs.
We already are doing a pretty good job in North and South Kitsap — public agencies there are pretty good about providing us with important information. But it’s been a struggle on Bainbridge Island.
For example, recently thieves stole cars and items out of other vehicles at a church on BI on Christmas Eve. Information obtained then was used to go to one of the victim’s homes and steal Christmas gifts.
But BI police would not provide us with any information, saying the crime was still under investigation. Of course, we all know what a phony excuse that is. Police, at least in other communities, often release information about crimes right after they happen. They realize that if the public knows about it, tips often come in that help catch culprits.
Luckily, we found out from one of the churchgoers about the thefts. But we can’t use that information unless it comes from an official source. Thankfully, the city’s new public information officer, Shannon Hays, stepped in to help. She was only able to provide basic information, but hopefully some good tips can come from it and the culprits will be caught.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had trouble getting information from BI police. Earlier last month we asked to talk to someone about rapes reported locally by students. Sounds like a pretty important issue the public should know about. I know when I first became editor here almost three years ago it was an issue then, too. Police at the time said they were going to be working with students and BI schools to address the issue.
I didn’t even get a response to my latest request.
BI police aren’t the only ones who don’t want us to know what’s going on. The BI School District is just as bad and has been since I’ve been here.
For example, we recently wanted to do a story about pay to play for athletics. We wanted to know how much money is brought in that way. We were surprised that in an area where so many wealthy people live that students had to pay at all. We also wanted to know how many students were allowed to play without paying. That seemed like a legitimate equity issue to us.
The BISD responded by saying basically look through all of our previous budgets and school board minutes. Like we have the time to do that. I’ve been in this profession almost 40 years in six communities and never ever received such a vague response to a public records request.
We tried to do another story about the coaching issues at Bainbridge High School. The district’s football coach was basically forced out, the basketball coach was retained despite numerous complaints, and the baseball coach’s team has not been supported. In an attempt to get the inside scoop, we filed a public records request for emails that should have told more of the story. However, only a few were released.
Again, these are just the most recent attempts by the BISD to control information.
Contrast that to the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation District. When we heard about an investigation against the BI Swim Club coach, we filed a public records request. We received a copy of the report that day. That report was very detailed with the only thing redacted being the names of those who complained. So, the public was able to know what was going on and decided if the situation was handled appropriately or not by its public agency.
That’s the way government is supposed to be run.
As for your tax money, we are just starting now to file public records requests regarding the highest paid public employees in our respective communities. We are hearing complaints that some officials are getting some huge raises, despite the poor economy the rest of us are facing.
We also are going to be filing public records requests regarding how all that COVID money received from the federal government is being spent. We are hearing complaints that that money is not going where it should.
I’m hoping this column will encourage public support in our efforts to get information vital to our community. And if you have any other ideas for watchdog or public funding stories please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.