Yesterday we published a story about the North Elba town board trying, unsuccessfully, to have the state strip a local real estate broker's license.
The state Department of State quickly decided that the town board's allegation had no merit and dismissed it.
All this happened more than a year ago, so why report it now?
We didn't know about it until late December, when our reporter Chris Knight found out. Once we gave him a green light to investigate, he requested and received 358 pages of documents from the Department of State under the Freedom of Information Law, reviewed them and conducted more than a dozen interviews.
Why go to all that trouble? Here's why:
-The fact that a town government went after a local business owner, not just to win a lawsuit but to take away her livelihood, might make other business owners wonder, "What might the town board do to me if I get on their bad side?" Thanks to the Department of State swatting down North Elba's request, the answer to that question could be, "not much." But if the public doesn't know about this action, it or something like it could happen again more easily.
-The town board took this action in secret, making no record of its vote. That's wrong as well as illegal under FOIL and the state Open Meetings Law, both of which we highlighted in our Sunshine Week series all last week on the Opinion page; a government body must make a record of every vote. The public needs to know what its government is doing, especially when government tries to punish citizens.
-For us to have the knowledge that this happened, even a year later, and not report it might give the perception that we were covering it up for fear of risking relationships or getting heat. We want our readers to know that we believe it is important to report the facts that we find out and report them as a matter of historical record.
-As a newspaper, we take our responsibility of covering the news very seriously. We painstakingly edited the story to the best of our ability to make sure it was accurate, fair and clear.
-We also could honestly say that we weren't doing this for journalistic glory; any such praise wouldn't be worth the hassle we'd face in the community for running this story.
We believe this is a story people deserve to know, one that needed to be reported for the record. Not doing so probably would have proved worse than doing it a year late.