Last Thursday, I sent an email to the Mayor’s Office of Communications asking for some basic responsiveness: Please return our emailed queries and phone calls about stories. Please send us the same routine emails you send to other members of the media.
Lately, more so than usual, they haven’t been.
It’s a shame because, even without their cooperation, we manage to produce balanced accounts of what goes on in Baltimore government.
Our reporting can debunk not just bland City Hall reassurances that “There’s no problem here,” but also unproven accusations that City Hall enabled indictable offenses.
Such was the case with Mark Reutter’s story Friday on the homeless services grant. (Quick history: The handling of the grant was slammed with a harsh federal audit and has resulted in taxpayers having to send nearly $4 million back to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.)
Mark’s reporting, based on the full and so far unreleased HUD report, didn’t let City Hall off the hook. The Mayor’s Office of Human Services got pretty much all of the blame in the report for multiple failures in the oversight of grant monies and activities, he explained.
Separating Fact from Fiction
But Mark noted also that, judging by the document and his additional reporting, there’s no basis for conspiracy theories that United Way, the city and unnamed non-profits had pocketed millions of dollars intended for the homeless.
One reason I’m proud of this story is that it is not one of those quickie, faux-judicious on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand treatments where everyone gets a gentle reproof and then it’s back to business as usual.
He waded into a swamp of bureaucratic jargon and came away with a plain-English analysis that was deep and nuanced. The mayor and city agencies spend large amounts of our tax dollars to hire public information officers to, ostensibly, do just that.
Separating fact from fiction, understanding what was accomplished and what went wrong – that’s good journalism.
Lucid information aimed at making local government work better – you’d think city officials would want that, too, and realize they could get more of it by answering our questions.