Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner’s apparent obsession with a nonexistent feud with LaGrange Daily News has clouded his judgment.
In his latest, blatant example of withholding information, the sheriff has kept information about the arrest of a murder suspect away from our reporter. There was no mention of the arrest of Alonzo Rico Ford, who is suspected in Dec. 22, 2011, shooting of Pops Patel at Ribbitz convenience store on West Point Road. His office did not provide us with a copy of the arrest report and repeated calls to his investigators have not been returned.
However, news of this arrest was publicized in what has become Sheriff Turner’s personal newsletter, the Troup County News. This act is not only childish, it is an abuse of the power of his office, and a violation of the public’s right to know.
For years, Turner has made access to information difficult for LaGrange Daily News staffers. He constantly monitors what his staff says, purposely avoids phone calls and emails. The only time he’s truly forthcoming with information is when it puts his department in a positive light. Things had improved slightly since February, when we reached out to the sheriff to establish some dialogue. We were starting to receive more information from his department, however, we still did not have the same access as the Troup County News.
Any positive news from the sheriff’s department will almost surely be published in the TCN. However, anything negative will not appear. This was evident in the past week as the TCN failed to print any balanced coverage of Turner threatening an opponent’s campaign worker. The only coverage TCN provided was one-sided and, once again, in favor of Turner. You have to ask what Turner’s motivation is to provide news only to the TCN?
The media’s relationship with a public official can sometimes be tense and uncomfortable.
The best officials embrace transparency, and will tackle the toughest questions. Effective officials work with the media to make sure the functions of their offices are explained clearly and fairly to the public, and to overcome any misconceptions. When there is a problem, they engage in polite conversation to work out the issue. They see a main function of their office as reporting to their bosses — the public — and recognize the media as a primary vehicle to do this.
Turner has repeatedly demonstrated disrespectful disregard for civil discourse on any subject not to his liking.
By shutting out the media, Turner cuts out the conduit to the public that takes time to review and analyze public records, reports on successes and mistakes, and lets residents know how their employees are performing and how their taxpayer money is being spent.
Turner has tried to use his bullying and intimidation tactics, once again. This time, against the LaGrange Daily News in retaliation for its publication of his attempt to intimidate his former employee Jon Whitney. On his web post he states the following:
I would like to submit my account of the events which have taken place, leading to the most recent articles written by the LaGrange Daily News to destroy and discredit me. How often do so-called friends have an argument, disagree and have their private conversation recorded for exploitation in the local newspaper? When did finding out that one had their friendship betrayed become a front page news story?
Fact is, the three articles in question were simply printed by LaGrange Daily News in attempt to destroy my reputation. I believe this is a reflection of their disappointment in the findings of a recent audit. We learned sometime ago that, out of the two newspapers, the Troup County News had a much larger circulation than the LaGrange Daily News. Our job at the Sheriff’s Office is to inform the public of relatable issues the best way we know how. The results of an audit revealed this fact about the amount of newspapers circulated to our public audience.
In light of the result found in the audit, consideration has been given to change the origin of our legal ads from running in the LaGrange Daily News - to the Troup County News. After becoming aware of this, the LaGrange Daily News management has contacted me in order to present their case to me before making a final decision in changing the origin of the legal ads. At the time the request was made, I had no problem in granting their request. However, these three articles that ran in the LaGrange Daily News were printed to destroy me for being one of the three deciding to change the origin of the legal ads. …
The LaGrange Daily News even went to the extreme of notifying the Attorney General, making accusations against me. Their stories are slanted in order to bias readers against me. In truth, our District Attorney is a reputable professional whose intent it was to get the opinion of the State Attorney General… Not to investigate me; rather, to seek his opinion.
Five Attorneys and two Judges have addressed this issue; and, all are of the same opinion: No law has been violated! Further, they point out that I never actually contacted Mr. Whitney’s employer, nor had the intent to contact his employer. Mr. Whitney’s employer is the only entity that can make a decision regarding an action in regards to his employment, as it pertains to his role in the incident which had taken place on July 5th.
We have several questions for Sheriff Turner after viewing this post:
• When was this audit conducted?
• Who conducted this audit?
• Why don’t we know about this audit?
• How can an audit of LaGrange Daily News be conducted with out its knowledge?
• Who paid for this so called audit?
• Where are the results of this audit posted?
• If. as you say,”your job is to inform the public of relatable issues … ” why are you withholding police reports from this newspaper?”
Your response is requested, Sheriff Turner.
Although the Attorney General’s office said you will not be investigated, is making threats to your former employee ethical? You said you didn’t contact Mr. Whitney’s employer after threatening him, does that validate your actions? You are mistaken that we reported your actions to the Attorney General’s office. We asked for their opinion. It was the District Attorney who requested Attorney General’s assistance in this matter.
Your actions are yours alone, and do not reflect on the brave, hardworking deputies in your department.
It is the goal of this newspaper to provide its readership with unbiased, balanced and accurate news of the community.The coverage of the conversation between Sheriff Turner and Mr. Whitney can be substantiated with facts, not to mention a recording of the conversation. The sheriff himself has publicly admitted making these threats. In the TCN, Turner said he apologized publicly for this mistake. Who did he apologize to? It wasn’t to Mr. Whitney.
If this is the way a public official conducts business, are you sure you want him as your sheriff?