My New Focus

In recent posts, I have expressed a satisfaction with the approach of the new administration in the Beaumont Unified School District. My primary reason for launching OurFocusOurKids.com five years ago was to move the school board and administration towards a true partnership with parents. We’re not there yet but I think we are on the right track. I still have a lot of unanswered questions and concerns about how our administration manages our kids’ resources but I feel I am now getting support from the administration’s business services department. I am receiving the information I need to responsibly assess the financial direction our school district is headed. I am working with the district’s Chief Financial Officer, Carol Severns, to get details on the community’s debt obligation to our schools from bond measures T and Z. I am hoping to determine how efficient the Measure Z funds are being managed. I hope to post my findings soon.

Like most Patch readers, I have been following comments on The Patch about what is happening in our City Government. I am concerned about what kind of legacy we are building for our kids, or at least the kids who decide to stay in Beaumont, or return to Beaumont after college. Will we be burdening future generations of Beaumont with a level debt that drives our kids away? In the short term, are we creating an environment that will discourage people coming here to buy homes and slow the revival of our housing market?

Whether or not you believe what Libi’s reports are revealing, or what our city council is telling us, we need to know more about what’s really going on. When everything is said and done, I am sure there will be plenty of blame to go around but I feel our local media should shoulder some of the blame. The introduction of The Patch to our community has opened many eyes, including mine, to the sad state of affairs of our “free press”. Beaumont isn’t unique; across the country, journalists have left the citizenry to forge for themselves.  I believe our founding fathers saw the press as a protector of the people from a corrupt government. This is why freedom of the press was so important to them and why it was the first amendment.

I’m not talking about bias, even though it’s obvious bias exists, I am talking about the lack of investigative journalism. In the past, the issues Libi has been raising in her audits would have provided journalists an opportunity to make them famous and increase their newspaper’s circulation. The journalists covering the pass area do an adequate job of reporting community events and special achievements of community members but where have they been on what’s happening in the back rooms of city hall and our school district?

I haven’t seen anyone from the Record Gazette or the Press Enterprise seriously question the “official line”. As many of us rely more and more on the Internet for getting the news, newspapers across the country are struggling to stay in business. In a “small” town, such as Beaumont, a local weekly publication depends on advertising from local business to pay its bills. Some of Beaumont’s local business owners benefit directly from the business decisions being made by the city council and school board. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect the Record Gazette to risk investigating political corruption involving the individuals who may support their paper through advertising.

I don’t think the same can be said of the Press Enterprise. Last year, Erin Waldner, who until recently covered Beaumont for the Press Enterprise, inquired of the school district administration about the firing of Assistant Superintendent Elatar. When the district told her they wouldn’t comment because it was a personnel matter under investigation, it ended the story. Now that Elatar’s contract has been terminated and the investigation completed, doesn’t anyone want to know what happened? Shouldn’t we at least expect our media to get an official statement from the school board about the reason for terminating Elatar’s contract? Aren’t we entitled to know if the actions of the district’s Chief Financial Officer had any effect on the management of our kids’ resources?

If you want to find out about how the decisions by our elected leaders in Beaumont are being made and what the implications are for our families, don’t expect to learn about it in the Record Gazette or the Press Enterprise. You have to follow letters to the editor, the Patch and other websites. You have to wade through all the name calling and anonymous comments and form your own opinion about who’s credible and who’s not. Mayor Berg complained at a recent council meeting that something should be done about “social media”. I told him it wasn’t going to go away and he should just stop following it. However, he needs to understand, blogs and comments to blogs is much more than “social media”. Social media is Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Blogs are our primary source of investigative reporting today. Many bloggers are not trained journalist; I’m not. I just wanted a platform to express my concerns, raise issues and persuade others to act. Not all bloggers have the same agenda that I do and many are untrustworthy but it is the new face of investigative journalism. You have to judge for yourself which blogs you can trust and which ones you should ignore.

My agenda is, and always has been, my kids. I believe I have a solid understanding of what’s happening in our school district and I think the administration and school board are showing signs they are heading in the right direction. I will continue to follow the district closely and speak up when I see a need but I am going to begin focusing on what’s happening with our city’s resources and how our kids’ future will be affected. My ten year old, who always asks me why our elected officials do what they do, has already told me she doesn’t plan on returning to Beaumont after college. This sentiment isn’t good for those of us locked into our home mortgages and 20 years of developer fees.

I know I have much to learn about Beaumont city politics and I hope you will be patient. I am going to raise issues where I don’t have all the answers and I hope responsible, civil, Beaumontians will comment and help educate me. I will avoid hearsay and only write about what I have witnessed or verified. Unlike the few who have spoken out about political corruption in Beaumont, I don’t own a local business and our politicians have no leverage over me. I hope to provide a platform to fill the vacancy left by our traditional journalist who I feel have abandoned us.

I am going to start by completing the campaign finance study I began last year. We need to know who is financially supporting our elected officials and how they may benefit from the actions of the council. Our city council should be required to convince us their actions are in the best interest of all of us and not just their supporters. The city manager has told me they are working on getting the campaign finance documents online and invited me to come in and view these documents, but I need digital version or hard copies that I can copy and post on my website. Until the city makes the documents available online, I could use help from anyone who already have any of these documents. If you have any copies from the 2008, 2010 or 2012, I can borrow, please email me at OurFocusOurKids@gmail.com.