Pharos-Tribune

July 10, 2013

KITCHELL: Citizen-driven issues make good stories


Pharos-Tribune

---- — It’s been 25 years ago this month since headlines in Logansport and other area communities heralded the kind of events that don’t happen very often – and wouldn’t have happened had people not become involved.

Ironically, both stories might be filed under the heading “Four County.” One of those involved Four County Counseling Center, based in Logansport. The other involved the former Four County Landfill near Delong in Fulton County. Neither story fell on a typical reporter beat, but both became stories that led to media coverage.

The Four County Landfill closure was huge in that the fledgling Indiana Department of Environmental Management refused to issue an operating permit for the hazardous waste landfill. It was a triumph for members of Supporters To Oppose Pollution (STOP), a nonpartisan group of rural residents around the landfill who were concerned about their drinking water, property values and general health of humans and livestock. The landfill, located near the banks of the Tippecanoe River, has been closed ever since. Wells near the landfill have been monitored. The years since its closure spawned update hearings, sometimes contentious public meetings, that updated residents on the long-term clean-up for the site and the state’s funding paid in part by potentially responsible parties or PRPs.

Had IDEM been in existence when the landfill opened, it may never have been allowed to open by the state, but that’s 20/20 hindsight. The landfill remains a barren portion of Fulton County along Ind. 17 that is a black hole of land use. It might look much more barren than it does today had residents not acted when they did, and with the resolve that brought an attorney who had represented residents of Love Canal, N.Y., to the Midwest, to represent STOP in a U.S. District Court case in South Bend.

Meanwhile, the center was at the center of controversy in 1988 when it was reported that judges who referred clients to the center were no longer doing it because of problems the judges were experiencing. Turnover was high, the center was losing money and staff members who had left the center expressed concerns about its future.

There were people at the time who told me they objected to coverage of the center, and that the coverage itself could lead to the closure of the center and loss of jobs in Logansport and outlying counties. But the state again intervened, and former State Mental Health Commissioner Josef Reum personally came to Logansport to meet with center officials and discuss its future.

Within a few years, the center was accredited for the first time. The Emotional Care Center across the drive from the center at Logansport Memorial Hospital closed and the center, under the leadership of Marjorie Hosier of Winamac, moved forward into a new era.

These stories are interesting in the 21st century because neither probably would have been published had it not been for the people involved who asked questions, who wondered what should be happening and who alerted people who could address problems, the stories might not have been told and the outcomes in both cases might have been starkly different. As newsrooms around the country are pared down because of industry changes, citizen journalists and just average citizens in general can play a critical role in ensuring that journalism in a free society is relevant and effective.

It’s alarming to note that the size of government has grown dramatically since 1960, but the size of newspaper newsrooms has shrunk, even as ownerships have aligned to cut costs and share tasks to deliver quality products.

To that end, everyone is truly a reporter, whether they submit a video of a burning warehouse or plane crash or whether they supply a tip that a board is meeting secretly or that an administrator has just cleaned out a desk.

The public, as has long been said before I was around and will be said after I’m gone, has a right to know. That’s a right we all have to think about a little differently in a 21st century world with the Internet, blogs, Web sites and a 24-hour news cycle.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at ptnews@pharostribune.com.