More Lawyering

This week I was in charge of attorney issues. We finally got the documents from the court case we won, but tons and tons was redacted. I had to get on the phone with two attorneys and argue why what they did overstepped the court order. I was happy to be able to successfully negotiate this one away seeing as the other option was going back to the courts, but considering all the holes in the paperwork that would have been a viable option.

And then there was the matter of abolishing the budget committee and whether that violates Conway’s charter. I was on the phone with the town attorney, asking if he thought the ballot question to transform the budget committee from a board with statutory authority into advisory-only was legal when I pointed out a way the voters could wind up eliminating the budget committee all together, which would put the town in violation of its charter. The town attorney’s response: “That’s a good point.”

I’m not sure what attorney’s get to talk to me, but I know what I get to talk to them and it isn’t much. Sometimes its fun to push people outside your paygrade.

That is essentially what journalism is, I guess — asking people who ought to know the answers basic questions to test them. Late last year I got to challenge candidates vying the U.S. Presidency. One of them makes more in a day than I make in a year (guess which one). If that isn’t quizzing above your pay grade I don’t know what is.

The nice thing about being a reporter is you aren’t being paid by any side. You are being paid to find the truth. Press every side, then press them again, and if something that appeared right before goes sour press it until it pops.

I had back-to-back hour long conversation/arguments this past week about the court case we won, both of them on the phone. Coworkers were stealing glances my way, wondering who I was sparing with. At the end someone said they wanted to buy me a coffee because I’d had such a rough couple of days. I, however, couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Pushing like that is why I do the job. Who wants to be an attorney — those guys are paid to defend their client. I’m paid to defend whoever is right.

Budget Time, and Public Office

Local government is an amazing thing. In New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, the goal is to put control directly into the hands of the voters for the most part. That means elected officials sit before citizens and have to answer direct questions directly. Imagine if the same were true on the national level…

I’ve been caught up in the budget debates in recent weeks, from how much teachers make to grant applications for police officers. The only thing that seems to be missing, however, is the public.

Last night I was at the public hearing for the town of Conway budget, which just passed the 10,000 population milestone. There were roughly six members of the public in the audience. Everyone else was an elected official. Tonight it was the town of Bartlett budget public hearing. There were 10 people there, including the fire chief and the police chief. While proportionately better (Bartlett has about 3,000 residents, I think) it was still a dismal turnout.

The day before I was at a Conway selectmen’s meeting. A local neighborhood association had urged people to come out and voice their position on an issue, but there were less than five people that heeded that call. A couple other people who were there for unrelated reasons shared their opinions, but overall it was a flop (there may have been a few emails sent to town officials, however).

I wrote about this problem years ago in Berlin — Where is everybody? Local government gives people a lot of control over how decisions are made, but first people have to show up. And they don’t. When they do, like at last year’s school deliberative meeting, they can exert amazing force, but in day to day governance boards and commissions are left on their own. It’s sad to see.

And yet people complain. They write to the paper and post to Facebook about how much local government sucks. They may not realize the level of power they could wield, accustomed instead to federal elections where one vote is a drop in the bucket.

If there is one thing I’ve learned by covering hundreds of public meetings (literally) it’s show up. And run. Get involved. Try running things and you’ll probably criticize a lot less. Or at least you’ll be able to do something about it.

More Money

So last night was the real start of the budget season, and the police department budget was up for review by the budget committee. They got taken to task for increasing their budget because in previous years they moved money around to buy equipment they said they needed. That was a story I wrote back in March — it was good to see it referenced this season, and to see that my reporting has the community making possibly different decisions than they might have otherwise.

I’ll post the story as soon as I write up last night’s meeting. Time to get to work.

Primary Flop

This post’s title is not meant to reflect any of the candidates in yesterday’s G.O.P. primary. It is a commentary on how that primary wound up in the Mount Washington Valley. Since mid-December not one candidate came to the Mount Washington Valley. The national media made New Hampshire sound like a madhouse, where you couldn’t go two steps without running into a presidential hopeful. Well I’m here to say that wasn’t the case in Conway, Jackson, Bartlett, Madison or any of the towns I cover. The closest a candidate got was the Mount Washington Hotel, in Coös County,  on the other side of Crawford Notch.

It’s interesting to reflect on that wall to wall coverage with that in mind. I read several stories today about how there were more reporters at candidate events than New Hampshire voters. It certainly felt that way here. I spent the afternoon covering a death on Mount Washington instead of covering politics because, as far as I could tell, there were no politics to cover.

Oh well, the next race is only four years away.

More NHPR, But Not What You’re Used To…

I had my first piece for Word of Mouth, a really cool program on arts, culture and new trends and ideas today. It was a story about an arts program, the Caravanserai, touring rural New Hampshire. The introduction of Islamic sounds in the North Country fit the bill of what they were looking for, so they contacted me about doing a story. There were some challenges (several of the performances I was planning to go to either got shortened or cancelled), but all in all I think it came together well.

WOM_Caravanserai

I might try to mash the radio story together with the video I did and make a stronger piece all around. Who knows. We’ll see.

Michele

So I found out today I had been spelling Michele Bachmann wrong. I had Bachmann right, but there is one L in Michele. I’d been using two.

I also found out some New Hampshire voters are not pleased she waited so long before visiting.

Bachmann is now a margin-of-error candidate in the Granite State. In June and July she was polling as high as 18 percent, second only to Mitt Romney. Now she’s hovering around 2 percent. Not a good sign, but in some ways it’s still early.

Not that she should be concentrating on New Hampshire anyway. She’s a strong candidate in Iowa and South Carolina, where social conservatives have a louder voice. Up here Independent voters and even Democrats can opt into the primary, making it tough for a candidate with her views to win. Plus the frontrunner owns a house here and governed one state a way. And libertarian Ron Paul has a strong network here. To expect Bachmann to make serious inroads is too much.

Still, not visiting for four months might be too long for someone serious about a White House bid. I met fans of her’s today who were cautious about her for exactly that reason.

If she pulls off another strong debate performance, however, she could easily shoot upwards. Still three months to go. Can’t wait to find out where things land.

Hopefully you caught my NHPR piece this morning. If you didn’t, I’ll post a link soon. I’ll have coverage in the Conway Daily Sun too, so don’t miss it.

Vacation, Candidates, and a lot more Radio

So I was gone last week out to Colorado for a family visit and some mountain fun. Now I’m back and things are no slower than when I left. Michelle Bachmann is going to be here this weekend, and I’m covering her visit for both the Sun and for NHPR. The day I got back a man’s body was pulled from the Swift River (always a depressing story), and the municipal budget cycle is starting to heat up.

I left for my week off amid another flurry of stories — Hurricane Irene, an NPR tape sync, coverage of an emergency town meeting — not really needing a vacation. The variety and the pace of coverage lately, from presidential candidates to a natural disaster to what at times appears to be impending economic doom, has kept me entertained. I go to work every day looking forward to what story I’m about to find. Sure, it was great to get away with my wife and visit my brother and his fiance, but it was a nice break, not a needed one.

I did, however, pack an extra radio story and some NPR work into that last week. Now I’m doing the same. I can’t help it though, when there is a chance to cover a cool story, I’m going. Now it’s just time to see what’s next.