By George Scott –
Mr. Scott is a Katy Resident who has served as a reporter, editor, assistant publisher, publisher or owner at five different community-based newspaper publications.
Watching Dennis Spellman and Covering Katy (sister publication to Covering Fort Bend) getting journalistically involved in the behind the scenes dispute now gone public between two of Fort Bend County’s top law enforcement officials – Sheriff Troy Nehls and Constable Wayne Thompson reminds me just how important it is that a community has at least one courageous journalist.
For me – a former reporter, news editor, publisher, and owner for community-based news mediums – watching this unfold in Fort Bend County Precinct 3 which includes significant portions of Katy is like an unpleasant walk down professional memory lane.
It is a well-known ‘secret’ hidden in plain sight for a long time now that Sheriff Nehls and two successive Constables of Precinct 3 serving the Katy-Fort Bend area have significant and different attitudes and approaches to certain issues in law enforcement that have created continuing problems between their respective offices.
Now enter the courageous action of Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers who has demonstrated his absolute dedication to the citizens of his precinct by bringing this dispute into the public arena where it now belongs by addressing one of the critical issues: the dispatching of officers to scenes where law enforcement is needed.
By openly discussing the issue of dispatching and even suggesting that Fort Bend County may need to establish an independent dispatching service not managed by the Sheriff’s Department, Meyers has done an extraordinary service of bringing the public’s attention to an important issue that will absolutely guarantee the matter will be discussed and debated as it should be.
What does this have to do with journalism and Covering Katy and Dennis Spellman? Everything that the community needs to know to understand just how important it is that Covering Katy get the subscriber support it needs to keep reporting.
At the level of community where everything is more personalized, it is not clear to me if rank and file citizens really understand how much courage it takes for a community-based journalist to get involved in a story of this nature.
This is especially true when it involves two law enforcement agencies that may start pooping into each other’s fans. This could get messy before it gets cleaned up.
With almost 46 years of experience in media or media-related functions, here are the two things I can foretell with certitude:
- Key officials with both law enforcement agencies are not going to want to see and read their squabbles in public because facts are almost certainly going to emerge that put both agencies in a less than perfect light. And when that happens, they are all going to end up blaming Dennis and Covering Katy.
- The winner of all this is going to be the public because the dispatching of officers to a scene should never even have the appearance of being a turf battle.
No community-based journalist in his right mind who is out trying to sell advertisements and write community news and advance his publication wants to get in the middle of peeing match between two law enforcement agencies.
However, when the community’s need rises above a business plan’s need that is when the measure of the courage and integrity of a community journalist rises or falls.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Covering Katy can get the subscriber base it needs to be viable that Dennis will follow this story wherever it goes objectively. He won’t favor the Sheriff. He won’t favor the Constable. He will ‘favor’ his community.
Commissioner Meyers has done a tremendous service by bringing this issue to the public arena. It is absurd to blame Dennis for publicizing Meyer’s concerns while helping Meyers bring those concerns to the public.
But make no mistake about it: the moment that Covering Katy published that story, Dennis knew that he would become a target of harsh and even irrational criticism.
In my career as a community journalist, I committed my publications’ resources relentlessly towards two different law enforcement agencies with deep, systemic problems. The fallout led to some very tense moments and concerns for my family until my decisions to publish were more than vindicated. The decisions to pursue and publish were not easy ones.
For the record, the kind of law enforcement problems I pursued in the past do NOT exist at either the Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office or the Precinct 3 Constable’s office. These appear to be important but more typical kinds of matters that need to be worked out.
With Covering Katy focusing the public’s attention on the issues and giving voice to Commissioner Meyers, Dennis will be doing his job in the best tradition of community-based journalism.