EDITOR’S COLUMN: Keeping close watch on public officials is a core duty for the Enterprise

Les Zaitz, Enterprise editor and publisher

Watchdog work is one of our most important functions at the Enterprise.

By watchdog, we mean holding the powerful accountable to you, to the community.

We have done a fair amount of that lately, and you can thank the First Amendment for that.

The guarantee of a free press means no one in a government office can muzzle the Enterprise or any other news outlet. That freedom means we are free to question government conduct and report to you – restrained only by the need to be truthful.

We do so because our reporters are trained to seek the truth. They know how to use government records, applying public records laws. They know how to question those in authority, providing fair opportunity for those in power to respond.

The Enterprise delivers these reports so that you, the voter and the taxpayer, can judge what those in positions of power are doing. Are they using your tax dollars wisely? Are they doing what they said they would do? Are they delivering government benefits and services to the community that they said they would?

Because government officials wield legal authority and they spend your tax dollars, their conduct warrants closer scrutiny than your barista or grocer. They ask the community to trust them, to believe they act in ways appropriate for leaders – ethical and honest.

Week after week, we deliver journalism for you that no one else would.

We don’t go looking to cause trouble. We’re not setting out to pick on leaders. But we do report what they do that seems worth sharing with readers. This isn’t easy. Public officials often are popular – that’s why they get elected. Public officials have their own ways to scream “fake news” or otherwise attack the credibility of the press.

In truth, it’d be easier for our staff to just look the other way, as other media outlets too often do.

But then we aren’t performing as many of you expect. Let’s consider the recent watchdog work.

When Cliff Bentz took office as a U.S. representative, he immediately became embroiled in the national politics as Donald Trump tried to thwart a president election. Bentz, who has been always accessible to the Enterprise, was honest when questioned about some of his actions.

He opposed letting Pennsylvania’s presidential votes count because he was troubled how 10,000 votes would be tallied. He didn’t realize those votes hadn’t been counted towards Pennsylvania’s results.

He joined other freshmen Congressmen in calling for an investigation into voter fraud. He then said he didn’t support the letter’s claims about what evidence existed.

We felt that information should be shared with you – and other news outlets around the state picked up our report.

Then there is Ontario Mayor Riley Hill.

He’s a long-time developer. He serves without salary as mayor, but wields significant political power. So it was important to share with the public that he was suing Ontario to overturn a fine for keeping a messy property. The lawsuit surely sends a signal to city workers responsible for enforcing the law that it may not be wise to cite the mayor or his companies.

That development was followed by a state judge acting against Freddy Rodriguez, an Ontario city councilor. Rodriguez was hit with the second restraining order in less than a year based on allegations of domestic abuse. The record in this instance included the handwritten account of an 11-year-old girl who was scared by what her mother endured.

And then there is Greg Smith, the state legislator and Malheur County economic development official. Smith’s company for nearly two years collected money every month to chase a $15 million federal grant. Turns out, the work was sloppy and unacceptable to the federal government. This from a government official who boasts about his efficacy at economic development, but who conceded in a public meeting that the reporting was legitimate and that he “owned” the mess. Still, his company kept more than $100,000 paid by the county to subsidize this performance.

At the Enterprise, we make no apologies for asking tough questions, for insisting on transparency, and for reporting what we find. We could spend all our time writing about other important but easier matters such spelling bees and murals and look away from challenging stories.

But no one wants a watchdog that sleeps as the burglars pillage the house.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise. Reach him by email at [email protected].


The Enterprise relies on community support to fund vital local journalism. You can help us do more.

SUBSCRIBE: A monthly digital subscription is $5 a month.

GIFT: Give someone you know a subscription.

ONE-TIME PAYMENT: Contribute, knowing your support goes towards more local journalism you can trust.