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‘Stick to the facts’ when reporting about Ogle County

Ogle officials ‘responsible, conscientious’

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
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Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker

Recently, Sauk Valley Media’s readers have been served with a weekly barrage of articles about Ogle County.

The press has a duty to report on the actions of elected representatives, and I encourage it. But, obligation brings responsibility, to stick to the facts, and let the readers draw their conclusions.

Nearly half the articles written have been opinion, without being labeled as such, and with countless incorrect conclusions. Unfortunately, these are often read as fact, rather than opinion.

The reader gets the impression that taxpayer money is spent recklessly, while the Ogle County Board is “asleep at the switch,” and until two new board members came along, nobody asked about anything.

ALL our department heads are good, fiscally responsible, conscientious public servants. We have very good board members, with diverse backgrounds, who aren’t afraid to ask tough questions.

In the past, our oversight was more lax, but the tough questions didn’t start last year with just two new board members, but 3 years ago, when Jim Barnes became our chairman. Under his leadership, we’ve turned around many areas, and we’ll continue as long as I’m chairman.

To be sure, there WERE problems last year. But, they were promptly addressed, and corrected, long before this newspaper reported it.

We’ll see more changes this coming year. Just because “it’s always been done that way,” is exactly the reason I’ve always felt a procedure needs to be re-evaluated.

I also feel these articles unfairly included the coroner in their “exposé.” His online computer purchase was done by another county employee, using a county credit card, which the coroner had no notion whatsoever was being processed in that manner. The coroner wrote a personal check to pay for it immediately, not a month later, as the newspaper reported. The coroner never even had a county credit card, and yet, he’s included in the newspaper “controversy.”

Regarding the sheriff’s matters, using one situation can illustrate how the newspaper’s opinion writings can distort the public’s perception of what really occurred. I was present during the reporter’s interview, when he asked the sheriff [Michael Harn] about the purchase of jeans.

The sheriff answered, “This is my ONE uniform, and I wear jeans and polo shirts, with the name of the Ogle sheriff on the sleeve, because these can be bought at a fraction of the cost of one uniform.”

When the newspaper opined about “designer jeans,” without the context of the rest of the rationale, it leaves the reader with the interpretation of the editorialist, rather than the reality.

In summary, it’s important that taxpayers understand these issues in full context, and that they are an exception, and not the rule. That taxpayers are well served by their county officers, and the board is engaged in oversight of their funds.

The “big picture” needs to be kept in mind, when seeing this kind of reporting, and realize during an election cycle, like now, creating news, instead of just reporting news, helps to sell newspapers. But, it leaves an improper picture for the taxpayer.

Note to readers: Kim P. Gouker is chairman of the Ogle County Board.

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