Once you stop trusting someone, it’s hard to start again.
Here at your hometown newspaper, that’s where we find ourselves in our relationship with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
There was a time, not that long ago, when we believed what they told us without reservation. We asked questions on behalf of the public, and they gave us answers. It was simple.
But that’s not how our relationship works today.
As those of you who read your hometown newspaper closely already know, the credibility of the sheriff’s department has come into question not only after it helped Assistant Jackson County Attorney Amanda Lassance game the justice system after drinking and driving but also its propensity for providing wrong information in its feeble effort to explain itself.
Because of that, we have become doubters. It’s a cry wolf thing.
Now, any time we ask a question of the sheriff’s department, or file an open records request under Iowa Code Chapter 22, we find ourselves being hypervigilant in our assessment of the answers and information we receive in response.
Today, that lack of trust is weighing into our thinking about how the sheriff’s department responded to our most recent open records request for the April 6 call histories of taxpayer-owned cell phones used by Sheriff Russ Kettmann, Chief Deputy Steve Schroeder and Deputy Chad Roeder.
Kettmann and Schroeder, the department’s leaders, have said publicly that they had nothing to do with the decisions their department made that night along U.S. Highway 61 in northern Clinton County, and we are not disputing their claim. But, we have learned that our trust should not be granted automatically, either, and that is why we filed the request.
The sheriff’s department provided documents to the Jackson County Auditor’s Office, which then passed them along to the Sentinel-Press to fulfill the request on Aug. 15. Included in the sheriff’s department response was a page of call history for each of the requested accounts, but the documents were not official telephone company account histories.
The sheets did not contain any insignia from Verizon, and they did not look anything like the standard call history sheets that are readily available to Verizon customers. Trying to better understand what we were looking at, we enlisted the help of an out-of-state Verizon employee who works with the company’s billing and tracking systems to see if they could make sense of the information, and they couldn’t. They told us that the documents the sheriff’s department provided were not taken directly from Verizon’s systems.
None of that means the information is inaccurate, but it does raise the question of why the sheriff’s department would go to the trouble of recreating the document when it could have simply printed the account histories from the Verizon website, which is how Verizon’s system is designed to work.
While we are not accusing the sheriff’s department of intentionally omitting data, the documents they provided are suspiciously odd.
Because of that, we are going to try again.
On Friday the Sentinel-Press filed a new request, this one asking specifically for unaltered call histories for each account for the date of April 6 as it appears on Verizon’s system.
It’s just our job
Here at your hometown newspaper, we are serious about doing our job, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Effective self-government and healthy communities are dependent on honest information, and we believe our job is to use our resources to that end, even when our methods are more confrontational than we would like.
We want our community to thrive, and for that to happen, we believe a high level of public trust is important.
The goal of our reporting is not to badger those in power, but to hold them accountable to a reasonable standard. Because many local elected positions are for the most part accountable to no one except voters, we feel an obligation to do our best to keep them informed. Otherwise, your hometown newspaper wouldn’t matter.