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Baraboo Newspaper Shows Need For Tenacious Local Reporters

September 17, 2018

This story will not appear above the fold in daily newspapers, or make the consultant driven local TV news.  But it is a most important story.  And it is being made news because of a local newspaper and intrepid reporters.

Will portions of a redacted government email involving a Spring Green man found dead on property that officials deemed a health hazard be made public?  

Why you should care about this story is because local news reporters–or reporters on a state and national level–have a role in ferreting out the actions–or lack of actions–a unit of government takes.  Those actions, obviously, have consequences for the public.  But as of late the harsh words against journalists requires that we again focus on why reporters matter in a democracy.

The Baraboo News Republic filed a lawsuit against two Sauk County government offices due to, what at the heart of the matter is, a zoning issue.  The person who died, Christopher S. Mueller, a 64-year-old Spring Green man, may not have had his life ended in his cluttered trailer if local officials had acted differently.

The newspaper has reported that the county deemed Mueller’s property a danger to public health at least two years prior to his death. A zoning inspector wrote in reports that Mueller didn’t have a working septic system, dumped human waste on the property, and used his land as an illegal junkyard.

In visits the property, the inspector documented Mueller’s poor health conditions, and the county later issued an abatement order demanding that he vacate the property in 30 days. He didn’t leave.

A county ordinance said Liebman, the county attorney, had the “duty of prosecuting” those who violate abatement orders, and was required to take steps to enforce Mueller’s removal.

However, 10 months passed between the time that Liebman was notified that Mueller had not obeyed the abatement order and the day he was found dead. The county attorney never took steps to have him removed from the hazardous property.

It comes as no surprise that government always needs to be prodded to allow for more sunshine and transparency so to allow those governed to have a better understanding of what is happening in their name.  Citizens have a right to see and hear how local government functions, and how elected and appointed members of government bodies arrive at decisions.

That is why I am mighty proud of the Baraboo News Republic’s quest for the truth and pushing to make sure that information pertinent to the full understanding of this case be made available. We often hear that newspapers are fading in importance and relevancy.  But ask yourself who would have pursued this story had it not been for the Baraboo paper?   

My dad was an elected official in town government in Waushara County for 44 years.  I can still see him under a good light in our home reading the local newspaper.  Why Dad flipped the pages of those papers was due to the fact he wanted to make sure the work of local government was published, and thereby publicized, so citizens could add their voice and input to the concerns of the day.  He also desired they be kept abreast of how local government functioned.  He knew informed citizens made for contented voters.

The work of elected or appointed officials need not be at odds with reporters.  But when they are at odds the needs of the citizens to be aware of how their government operates must always prevail.

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