Isle cops

I went to say hello to the cops yesterday. They weren’t happy to see me.

I hung them out to dry in a column a couple weeks ago, accusing one of spreading misinformation at a council meeting and another of stonewalling on public information. In the middle of the conversation I wondered why I would voluntarily walk into a confrontation with two big guys with guns. Guys who were mad at me. It was just a thought. I knew they were grown ups who would act like professionals. I had to go. I might be working with these guys for years, and I will need their help and cooperation from time to time.

It turned out okay. The officer I said was spreading misinformation thought he was falsely accused. He seemed sincerely hurt and offended and angry. Maybe he really was out of the loop, so much so that a month after an incident that was the talk of the town, he said there were no significant incidents. Or maybe he sincerely didn’t consider it significant, or maybe he really felt like he couldn’t talk about it because there was no police report at the time. But we have an Isle police report dated several weeks earlier.

The other officer seemed more angry at how he was portrayed in our news stories. I sympathize with him, but I don’t agree that the story was slanted to make him look bad. Some of the facts may cast him in a slightly negative light, but I don’t think most readers would come away with much of an impression one way or the other, except that he was a cop trying to do his job in complicated circumstances. It looked like he wrote his report based on the testimony of the suspect. We just said that was the case. We didn’t say what to make of it.

I told them I support the police and I admire them as individuals for doing a job most of us, myself included, wouldn’t have the guts to do. All I want is information that the public — not just me, but anyone who walks in off the street — has a right to. And I still don’t think they provided information we had a right to. We both have jobs to do, and sometimes that will put us in conflict, but I hope it doesn’t get personal. They felt like it did when I wrote that column, and I guess I can’t blame them for that. I just hope we can get past it. I like them. They seem like good guys. But that’s not what it’s about.

A couple people have called to tell me they liked my last column, about the goose that died on the river. That’s nice to hear. I don’t get a lot of unsolicited praise. A few others have complimented us on the way we’ve handled this difficult story about the “Isle Days fiasco,” as one council member called it.

library etiquette

I love the new library in Milaca and sometimes stop in on Tuesdays before or after the county board meeting.

The other day I was looking at a magazine and listening to two young men conversing in the comfortable chairs by the newspaper table.

I heard more F words than I could count on both hands, and they weren’t using their library voices! And they were talking about getting drunk (more precisely, getting f-ing drunk). What in the blank were a couple of foul-mouthed boozers doing in the library on a Tuesday morning?

I should’ve told them to watch their language. After all, I’m an old guy now, 44, I can be an annoying, condescending jerk, especially when the situation calls for it.

But there were no kids around, or old people, or anyone else, for that matter, so I just let it be.

Next time it’s going to be different.

Awkward moments in journalism

Being a journalist sometimes puts you in the position of having your butt chewed in public.

The other night at the Isle City Council meeting, council member Lowell Hillbrand referred to “the Isle Days fiasco,” which “hasn’t been reported accurately in the newspaper, I’ll say right here, Mr. Larson.” And another crack about not telling all sides of the story. The incident led to assault charges against the mayor, who happens to be a friend of Mr. Hillbrand.

I like Lowell, and I think he likes me. He’s a musician, and he invited me over to jam sometime. And I like the mayor, though there are things about him I think he could work on.

It doesn’t bother me that Lowell called me out in public. Sometimes a public official has to do that to the newspaper, and sometimes the newspaper has to do it to public officials.

Case in point: I wrote a column recently about local cops misleading the public and refusing to give up public information. It didn’t make them look very good, and I’m sure they felt much the way I felt the other night. I heard second hand that they’re not too happy with us.

The Isle cops seems like good guys, too. Hopefully they see it as part of the job I have to do as editor, but if not, I can live with it.

You can’t be in this business to make friends, but you have to remain friendly and try not to burn bridges, because next week or next year, I’m gonna need those cops and that council member to give me information.

I’m not sure what Lowell would have us do differently. No one on the “other side” has come forward or wanted to go on the record, so we’ve had to take information from public documents. We reported what’s in the court complaint and what’s in the police report. That’s all we have.

My guess is they wish we’d continued to sit on the story, but there’s no way I could decide that the mayor being charged with felony assault of a police officer is not news.

This week

Today was deadline day. Here’s some of what you’ll see in this week’s paper:

A great photo spread on dry land sled dog races.

An article about a young man arrested for felony domestic violence.

An article about a police chase that ended in a shooting.

Articles about Wahkon city council, Onamia school board, and more on Mille Lacs Academy.

An article about the Isle Jaycees.

A column by Rob about the shooting of an albino deer.

A column by me about a weird Thanksgiving Day experience.

A column by Diane about walking in the moonlight.

A column by John Stenback about cooking with Vaseline.

There’s lots more. Good paper.

What a play

I don’t care much about high school football, but I was channel surfing the other day and stopped at the final of one of the state high school classes. Mahtomedi was beating Totino-Grace 8-7, and there were 40 seconds left, so I thought I’d see if there would be a good comeback.

There was. One of the best endings of any football games I’ve ever seen.

Time ticked down until there was time for one more play. T-G was at the 50. The quarterback dropped back and threw a pass. It was tipped by a defender, then went through the hands of a receiver, then was caught by another receiver, who outran the defenders to the goal line, where he did a beautiful dive roll out of sheer joy, landing on his back in the endzone.

Good timing. It was the only 40 seconds of high school football I watched all year on TV.

What’s wrong with me?

Apparently, that’s what the folks in Onamia are asking. Bob Statz says he’s been hearing comments that I’m some kind of idiot because I said 82-year-old Marion Wright lives next door to the proposed Mille Lacs Academy site.

(Background for those who don’t read the paper: Mille Lacs Academy is a treatment program for juvenile sex offenders. They have been housed in the old Crosier boarding school but now want to build a facility on the west side of Onamia. To make it happen, the city is annexing land from Bradbury Township, re-zoning it, and probably giving a $27,000 per year tax abatement. Neighbors, including Ms. Wright, are not happy about it.)

Bob tells me Marion lives in town, and I was supposed to know that, even though when I went to take her picture and asked how to get to her place, she directed me to her old homestead by the Mille Lacs Academy — not to her apartment in town.

I guess maybe I should ask everyone if they really live where they say they live, or if they’re feeding me a line. “Ms. Wright, can you prove to me that you live here?”

So I called Marion and told her I was taking heat because people say she lives in town, and she said, “I live two places.” She said she doesn’t always sleep at the old homestead because she doesn’t like the sound of ATVs on the Soo Line Trail.

It’s really a moot point anyway. Nobody tells people who own cabins where they spend weekends that they should have no say in what goes on next door.

I think what’s really going on is that some people don’t want certain points of view represented in the paper. If you agree with them, you belong in the paper. If you happen to oppose the project they’re advocating, you don’t deserve a voice in the local paper.

That goes against everything I believe in.

I happen to think Mille Lacs Academy is a good program that contributes to the city and the region, and it won’t be too noticeable in its new location, but I feel for the folks who live nearby and don’t really want a $14 million 5-building campus going in next door. They have been a little extreme, but I don’t blame them. When you’re fighting city hall and a multi-million dollar company (even though it’s non-profit) you have to make a lot of noise.

As long as I’m editor of the Messenger, everyone gets a voice. That’ll get me in trouble sometimes, because too many people out there think only their own viewpoint is legitimate.

Boo-boo of the week

Imagine my horror when Jamie told me yesterday I had accidentally referred to Dave Barsody, the building inspector for Mille Lacs County, as building inspector for Mille Lacs ACADEMY — especially when it’s the Academy that Dave is fighting! One of those things where your fingers move faster than your brain, and no one catches the error, even though we have two people proof everything that goes into the paper.

Kevin figured a few months ago that we proof tens of thousands of words every week at the Messenger, so it’s not surprising that we miss a few. Still, I hate not being perfect.

Maybe next week.