Longtime radio broadcaster and newsman Paul Harvey, who died in 2009, was known for a segment of his program called “The Rest of the Story.”
Typically, the segment would spin a yarn of little-known pieces of information or forgotten facts on a variety of interesting topics until, at the end, Harvey would reveal a key element that he had not yet disclosed — often the name of the person he was talking about.
“And now,” Harvey would say, “you know the rest of the story.”
Harvey’s broadcasts came to mind this week as we read a couple of news accounts in the paper that, for one reason or another, didn’t have the key elements that would have fleshed out the story, given it context and, in some cases, just given the public the relevant facts to judge what is going on in the Racine community.
When government entities don’t release information that the public has a right to know, it undercuts openness and trust in government and deprives the public of information needed to assess the workings of their institutions.
That happened last week when the Racine Police and Fire Commission confirmed it had given a contract extension to Police Chief Art Howell. Howell, in our view, has done well in his job and we can understand why the PFC extended his contract two years.
But the unanswered question was whether Chief Howell was given any financial inducements to continue — particularly since he was a finalist to be chief of police in Rockford two years ago and was mentioned as a possible candidate for Milwaukee’s top police position early this year. But the head of the PFC declined to give the terms of the contract or what salary Howell will be receiving, saying that was the purview of the city administration. Taxpayers will be paying that salary, and they have every right to know how many dollars it entails, whether there is a raise, how much that is and how it compares to pay increases for other department heads, police rank and file and command staff.
Openness in taxpayer-funded government extends to the Racine Public Library as well. Words are important, but so are numbers.
In the interest of eliminating barriers to library use, the Racine Public Library Board voted this month to conduct a one-year trial of suspending fines for overdue library materials. The board also zeroed out all existing fines.
We’re fans of the library, and its services are of vast benefit to the community and perhaps these efforts will support its mission and its educational value. But the unanswered question is how much will these initiatives cost. What is the total for existing fines that are being erased? How much revenue will the library give up by suspending fines for a year? A few hundred dollars? A few thousand dollars? That, too, is information that is useful to the community and the public has a right to know it.
Given the news stories of the past week or so, Racine could use a good dose of Paul Harvey. Maybe then we’d know the rest of the story.