Our first 18 months of journalism saw us focus primarily on issues surrounding the southern border of the United States - illegal immigration, border security, and the transport of illicit fentanyl across the border. Over the past eight months, though, we have had experiences that have caused us to change that focus and move toward the subject of government accountability.
In the early days of our journalism endeavor, we began testing local municipalities and government agencies for openness to the citizenry. Under the open records laws of our state, we submitted open records requests for various innocuous information regarding employees and policies - such information as department or agency policies, employee rosters, etc. We found one city that seemed particularly difficult to work with but took that "in stride" based on the city's reputation in the community. We had promised ourselves that we would return to this endeavor, considering providing a full education to that city regarding the state's open record laws.
Despite the hassle experienced in retrieving what are supposed to be open records from this city, we returned to more-traditional journalism by researching and publishing stories that would appear in the mainstream.
July 2022, though, began a turn for us as another city that had previously performed well in providing open records also began to deliver a hassle in getting open records. Initially this came about through a response to a request that indicated we would be better served reaching out directly to the public information officer for that department to avoid a large bill for charges incurred in researching our request.
We contacted the PIO as directed, and seemed to get some of the information we sought - a listing of reports of illegal fireworks and firecracker discharges made to the department over the July 4th weekend. We were unable, though, to get any information on the other part of our request - a listing of responses to these reports. After being "ghosted" by the PIO, we took the matter directly to the department's chief. Still not getting the information that we needed, we were eventually also ghosted by the chief.
As we were attempting by this point to get the site ready for the new year and to return to our "normal" journalistic endeavors, we pushed this aside.
Eventually, though, our minds returned to the fireworks issue. Knowing that an unmatched report, contrary to what we had previously requested - our original request had been for department responses matched with the reports - we submitted and did, in fact, receive a listing of all of the department responses dispatched that weekend, regardless of the type of call. Our intent was to do the legwork ourselves and match up the responses to the reports. We found, though, that the list of responses did not include any that matched up to the report of illegal discharges.
In the interim, we had also researched the city ordinance and enforcement responsibility. During that research, we also found information regarding the process surrounding expense reports submitted by city officials and employees. As there have been some controversial moves made by the city's government over the past few years, we decided to delve into this aspect, as well, since the current mayor has been involved in the planning of or the one to announce some of these projects.
Having submitted a request for expense reports for major department chiefs, the city council, and the mayor's staff for the recently-ended fiscal year, we began getting responses from the individual departments, not the finance or human resources department, that there were no records responsive to our request. So, we went further and decided to request solely the paystubs for one department chief for the same period, only to be met a response stating that the matter had been forwarded to the state's Attorney General for review.
All of this combined led us to believe that the city, a key part of a major metropolitan area with the mayor's stated intent to turn the city into a "World Class City," is extremely short on transparency. With a population approaching a million citizens - the city's charter defines anyone residing in the city as a citizen - it seems that the city's hierarchy has decided that they can develop the city in their desired image and keep the citizens in the dark until the plans come to fruition.
In the spirit of transparency, the metropolitan city described is our beloved Fort Worth, Texas. This is our home and where our publisher lived an instrumental part of his life.
When our publisher moved away for 15 years, it was not expected that Fort Worth would be the same city that had been left. Upon returning, it was found that Fort Worth had not just changed but is in the midst of major transformation. Many parts of the city are unrecognizable, and the city is losing its ties to its history and heritage. With this change, accusations of nepotism and favoritism in city projects have surfaced.
Particularly with these accusations, Southside Matt has decided to dig deeper into this city government to determine how deep any potential improprieties may have seeped. That has taken quite a bit of our energies lately, and we will remain persistent in this.
So, we have transitioned our focus to Fort Worth City Government. While we will continue to monitor situations with the national political landscape as well as activities on the Southern Border, our focus will be local.
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