Any newspaper worth its salt will keep a close eye on a variety of moving pieces in a city like Waxahachie. From serving as the community’s watchdog to reporting news and sports to sharing human interest stories, and a whole lot more, our responsibilities are immense.
Those of us charged with fulfilling such responsibilities are accountable to you in making certain we don’t shut either eye to any moving piece. Relationships, personal or professional, can never be a reason to look the other way when covering a story and reporting it. Nor can any reputable news outlet mask anything, whether by omission or embellishment. Sadly, there are so-called, self-proclaimed outlets in this city that do it consistently. The continuing, sorry saga of Mike Jones, an Ellis County Constable, is a perfect example of how relationships can influence a 'news' source to cover up a story. At best, it's proof that not just any old sap proclaiming to be a journalist is anything close to one and, at worst, it's disreputable in the truest sense of the word.
This past week was, as one of my close friends in town put it, a “watershed” moment for Waxahachie. That is, as defined by Miriam-Webster dictionary, 'a point in time that marks an important, often historical change.' Undeniably, Waxahachie has experienced extraordinary levels of change for several years. There’s no doubt in the three years I’ve been here, it has. Change is almost always good. How change occurs though can often be a dicey proposition.
On Friday, Paul Stevens, Waxahachie’s City Manager since 2007, signed a separation agreement to leave the top job at City Hall. In the name of full disclosure, I consider Paul a friend and someone for whom I care and have great respect. I am also a friend of Kevin Strength, Waxahachie’s Mayor. As for those on City Council, I don’t know Mary Lou Shipley, but do have cordial, professional business relationships with Chuck Beatty, Mark Singleton, and David Hill. Mark and David are also consistent advertisers in the Daily Light and, by all indications, care about the Daily Light’s future. My hope is that everyone at City Hall feels the same. Regardless of any relationship though, I suspect no one involved in what occurred Friday believes the Daily Light would be influenced in any way to report anything but what we learn about what happened. Nothing under my watch, whether money, relationship or influence, will ever determine an iota of what we do.
That said, exactly what happened Friday and why? Given the adherence to the confidentiality clause in any separation agreement, the specifics contained in the agreement won’t be known by the public. As well, neither party to the agreement is allowed to speak negatively or disparagingly about the other. As such, tight lips will be the rule rather than the exception. While incredibly frustrating for most, it's just the way such agreements work.
Enter the Daily Light.
Our job is to tenaciously dog the legal system that enables us to gather information. We do it, pardon the pun, daily. Open records requests are the lifeblood to any news outlet getting information untouched and unchanged by those who, in the timeframe defined, created it. To that end, we are currently waiting on responses to the many requests we filed early Friday morning. Going back to 2007, we will find answers to many of the same questions asked at Friday's hearing. Once we have the information, we will tell you what we know. No masking, no omissions, no embellishment. We will report the facts fairly and accurately. What we don’t have, we can’t report, but never doubt that what we know, you will know.
Here’s what I do know. There was anger and anguish in the air Friday. Learning that a person you care for and admire is losing his job is troubling and emotional. Making such a change is, as well. And, certainly, losing one’s job can be one of life's most difficult experiences. Given the anger permeating Friday's meeting, plenty was expressed. Some spoke passionately, some spontaneously shouted, many cheered those speaking and some needed to listen. A community is to be heard and a city council is to listen … always. I don't think there's any doubt you were heard. Based on personal conversations I had this week with some on the council, with Paul and with many of you, there is universal pain. All change, particularly that which happens fast and in what could feel like a vacuum, evokes emotions like we saw and heard Friday. How we deal with it now makes all the difference.
Given what I know, here’s what I think … for what it’s worth.
• The system of governance in Waxahachie is worth a substantive discussion regarding its representation, structure and accountability.
• Paul Stevens will discover that God has something more important planned and we’ll be blessed with the opportunity to see it all unfold. Don’t doubt that.
• Those serving on City Council will learn from the process and, I believe, will be better because of it. Like maybe some of you and certainly like those making this decision, I’ve had to make changes involving people I love, but for what were valid reasons, I had to make them. In nearly every case, those people are still my friends today. All of them, I am sure, would tell you that they now understand why such change occurred in their lives. So will Paul.
• Passion for anything can sometimes be as much a curse as a blessing. Passion to lead Waxahachie into a new era is a blessing. Moving fast as a result of that passion can often be a curse.
• What happened Friday will linger for a while. Feelings will remain raw and anger will rule most conversations about the change. I also believe, given the strength and character of Waxahachie, we will find a way to unite on what’s most important – the health and growth of this city.
So, my hope is that each of us can dig deeper to realize that all change, including that of Friday, happens for reasons not often clear for days and weeks, sometimes months and years, to come. Such will be the case here, I promise you. In the days and weeks to come, the forces of knowledge, clarity, and understanding will begin pushing aside current anger and contempt. Progress will come. Like with any successful community or organization, Waxahachie will rise above anything that might otherwise tear it apart. It's what great cities do. May each of us do our part.