West’s World: As the media, we will report
The Ville Platte Gazette’s poll question two weeks ago, became more than just a poll question on Wednesday after the newsroom received an unexpected visit from Evangeline Parish Police Jury Secretary-Treasurer Donald Bergeron.
His actions during that encounter brought about a realization that there are officials, and others high up the food chain, in this parish who truly believe that the voters’ opinions have no value.
The poll question that sparked it all, dealt with a recent decision to give the secretary-treasurer a 20 percent raise.
From the first discussion the police jury had early in December regarding this topic, Bergeron and other jurors seemed to push back against the necessary attention our editorial staff brought to the matter.
An example of this would be when my associate editor attempted to get the amount from Bergeron that he would be making if the raise was approved with a majority vote by the EPPJ. The secretary-treasurer literally would not give us the number.
What’s funny about that though, is the fact that when Bergeron was in my office this past week, he considered himself a person that tries to work with everyone. However, his actions seem to suggest otherwise.
After several other calls made by myself and little help received, we took it upon ourselves to do the math and figure out that a 20 pct. raise would put him making nearly $12,000 more than his current almost $58,000 salary.
While I will admit that I believe the raise was far too high, what really concerned me about this situation was the fact that Bergeron fought against me and my associate editor keeping the public informed of where our tax dollars are being spent. But then again, Bergeron did express in my office on Wednesday that reporting on the raise wasn’t news.
Here’s what I have to say to that.
We are the media for goodness sakes. There is no reason why we wouldn’t inform the public about something as big as someone working for the parish, whose salary is paid by the tax payers, receiving a 20 pct. raise.
When the public pays the bills, then the public deserves to know where the money is being spent.
As a journalist, it is our duty and responsibility to keep the people informed and to hold people, especially our leaders, accountable for their actions.
In this situation, that is exactly what we did, and I don’t think some people, like Bergeron, are too excited about that.
Imagine a world where public officials didn’t have to tell us what they did with our tax dollars. Things wouldn’t be good.
That’s why our founding fathers didn’t just mention freedom of the press anywhere in the constitution, but instead in the very first amendment of the United States Bill of Rights.
What I believe really led to Bergeron gracing us at the Gazette with his presence though, was the fact that our poll question was blowing up and the results weren’t in his favor.
Before you feel too bad for him, let me just inform you that the poll results probably stung more than usual for our EPPJ secretary-treasurer due to the fact that his people tried to manipulate the results in their favor.
This was done by a strategic effort made to place phone calls telling people to vote “yes” that they did agree with the EPPJ’s decision even if they really didn’t. They just couldn’t let the results be what they would be.
I guess their actions were just due to the fact that, like what Bergeron told me in my office after barging in, throwing a newspaper down on my desk, and questioning our editorial staff’s integrity, the public doesn’t even know half of what he does.
That’s what I call the Evangeline Parish way. We have a history for having leaders who hide the truth to be able to create their own reality to sell, and their reality is always much more easily sold to uniformed people.
However, the days of local media turning a blind eye to potential corruption are over.
The final poll numbers actually ended up record breaking with a total of 463 votes cast, 74 pct. (340) voting “no” they did not agree with the police jury’s decision and 27 pct. (123) voting “yes.”
Transparency is the key to success for any governing body in my opinion, and it truly is the mission of all of us in the Gazette newsroom to help create a more transparent political system here in our parish.