Last year, Gatehouse Media implemented a paywall system for many of their small newspapers across Missouri and the country. This led to changes in the website of the Lake Sun, a Gatehouse outlet serving the Lake of the Ozarks’ communities. The Lake Sun has been the area’s undisputed leader in print media for the Lake for years. Before last years changes to their website, the paper enjoyed thriving, lively conversations in the comment sections on articles. Changes to the site have made it difficult to access articles on mobile devices and have restricted comment and conversation to articles selected by the editorial staff. Additionally, Facebook is linked to the comment section, and requires a user profile to post. Facebook, one of the most popular social media brands, has been cooperative with the NSA in data mining US citizens. These factors, along with the paywall which restricts access to online content, have muted conversations on articles from the online community and were the subject of conversation between American Spring and the Lake Sun last year.
Thursday however, the Lake Sun comment board saw a rare amount of traffic after the Lake Sun posted an article titled ‘Lake Ozark could be the setting for a reality show’. This piece referenced a story, first reported on by Manny Haley of KRMS Radio on Tuesday. The Lake Ozark Police Department have received an offer from a California production company to shoot a reality show centered around the LOPD. The city’s attorney and police chief are drafting an agreement that would ”be beneficial to the LOPD and the city of Lake Ozark”. This article from Dan Field sparked a rare firestorm of debate on Facebook. Many comments, critical of the LOPD and their ability to show the community in a good light, were voiced from across the lake area. These comments ranged, in part, from videos of the LOPD in action to recounts of personal experiences with the department. The examples offered from the community shows a side the department and the city would prefer to keep off-camera. These stories were reinforced by Lake Ozark city attorney Roger Gibbons.
“What if the material shows how people come here on vacation and party only to be arrested and placed on probation?” Gibbons, who authored the infamous ‘free speech ordinance’ which the Board of Aldermen passed in an apparent violation of state statute, has reason for hesitation. Video links found during a youtube search of ”lake ozark police” offer a look into what a reality show based around the LOPD might show the public about an area based around tourism. “Frankly, I do not see how the city or its police department benefits”, Gibbons said.
The Lake Sun’s article is underpinned by Lake Ozark’s failure to retain the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout Meet and Greet event. In recent weeks, that event announced a move to Laurie as political failure ensured no action would be taken to lift the city’s open container ordinance. The comments on the Lake Sun’s article reflected a deep frustration within the Lake of the Ozarks community.
As the editor of American Spring and host of Guerrilla Radio, I commented on the article as well, inviting further conversation about this and other issues involving Lake Ozark government. One of my comments, suggested listening to Guerrilla Radio, which was discussing the article on air.
The Lake Sun, within moments of its posting, deleted that comment.
This is the most recent in a string of questionable editorial decisions.
On June 27, American Spring ran ‘Franken’s Software Scandal’. That article clearly outlined a political kickback scandal orchestrated by Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken. The controversy surrounded a contract awarded to HCPS Software for accounting and payroll programs. In late 2011, as reported by the Lake Sun, Franken appeared to violate state statutes to ensure Timothy Otten and HCPS received this contract. Otten was a friend of Franken’s campaign during the election of 2010. Less than two years later, the county had to terminate the contract, as the software programs provided by HCPS were ineffective and failed to meet the specifications of the contract. This scam cost the taxpayers of Camden County $53,000.
On July 5, the Lake Sun ran Franken’s attempts to explain away HCPS’ failure to deliver a working product. Through manipulation and political double-speak, Franken attempted to minimize the situation. Joyce Miller, editor-in-chief of the Lake Sun, gave Franken the stage. Inexplicably, she did not challenge Franken’s white wash of the scheme. This came as a surprise and may indicate an about-face from Miller, whose exceptional reporting in October of 2011 first uncovered this scandal.
Under Miller’s leadership, the Lake Sun has had a contentious history with the embattled Presiding Commissioner. The Lake Sun has been critical of actions taken by Franken during his time in office. They have given insightful, thorough reporting of questionable dealings and decisions made by the politician. These have included Franken’s attempts to cover up wrongdoing by former campaign contributor Tony Beabout and the scandal that ensued regarding Beabout’s termination. The Lake Sun brought us Franken’s threat to sue then-reporter Deanna Wheeler for recording discussions related to audit results, even though all conversations involving a quorum of the Commission is subject to Sunshine Law. The paper has questioned Franken’s attempts to keep records surrounding county tax sales hidden from public scrutiny and recounted the way with which he drug his feet regarding those records. The Lake Sun has helped map out Franken’s term of treacherous behavior with their honest and frank reporting during the past two years. Recently however, this seems to have changed.
Over the past two weeks, a consortium of individuals have been laying the groundwork for an argument in favor of Article 600. The Lake Sun has documented these attempts in detail. The details they have chosen to bring to light offers a look at the usual suspects in Lake of the Ozarks politics and their attempts to justify the need for enforcement of Planning and Zoning through a series of complaints, using ‘nuisance’ claims. The Lake Sun has reported on the campaign of these same individuals to publicly chastise Commissioner Cliff Luber for bringing attention to Planning and Zoning issues and concerns, the termination of the HCPS contract, the TIGER Five grant and other questionable decisions made by our county government. Through their reporting, the Lake Sun has provided a rogue’s gallery for public scrutiny. The paper has shown the efforts of the Camden County Republican Club, the Village of Four Seasons Property Owners Association and the Lake of the Ozarks Community Bridge Corporation to influence policy in Camden County. They have also cited a telling May 10 audio recording of the Camden County Commission in which Franken calls the appointment of a lake area business owner to the Planning and Zoning board as a ”covert attempt to crash the system from the inside”.
The questions the Lake Sun haven’t asked: What system is it that might crash from the appointment of a board member who is well-educated on the effect of P&Z on citizen’s rights? What threat does that represent? To whom? Why is Franken so eager to label those who would speak out in opposition to Article 600 “extremists”? Where is the audio recording for the meeting of the Commission in which they discuss the TIGER Five grant and the use of county funds to subsidize private profits?
What did we wind up with after giving one of Franken’s buddies $53,000?
Where in the world are you, Joyce Miller?
The Lake Sun has prided itself on its local political coverage. As well they should. Historically, they have been an outlet that has been dedicated to uncovering government malfeasance. They have broken stories such as the Macks Creek speed trap and have shown the ability to stand up to politicians who would abuse their office. More than at any other time in our nation’s history, we need you to do your job. The media are the unspoken check and balance in a democracy. Their willingness to report truth in the face of power protects the interest of the people. When they willfully choose to obfuscate truth and promote instead, a public relations spiel, it leaves us vulnerable to those who would act unethically and recklessly while serving in offices we the people, own.
It is not the job of media to manipulate conversation around issues. It is the responsibility of our media to tell the truth. We do not want them to look the other way. We expect more, we deserve more.
We demand more.
We the people can influence the conversation and challenge the narrative. Monday morning, Kris Franken will appear on the Morning Magazine with Manny Haley. Call in. Join the conversation. Demand answers.
*Editor’s Note: American Spring sent an email to Joyce Miller, asking if she intended to do a follow up piece on the software scandal. She did not respond.