The Emperor’s New Jumpsuit

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Posted December 28, 2005 by Static in News

Tarrant County officials have one less excuse to hide behind this week.

The Weekly’s Dec. 7, 2005, cover story (“Jail House Blues”) described how many inmates received little or no information on the county’s pre-trial services program – which gets non-violent, low-level offenders out of jail on personal recognizance bonds instead making them pay a private bond company a lot of money – in part because county commissioners wouldn’t allow info on the program to be posted in jail booking areas. Commissioners had said they were waiting for a ruling on whether posting such information might constitute giving legal advice (yeah, right).

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has now come through with an opinion that should get a lot of folks off the county room-and-board bill while awaiting trial. Abbott ruled that posting such general info is legal – and that there’s also nothing in the law to prevent pre-trial workers from interviewing inmates in Fort Worth’s downtown holding facility, before they get shipped to city-contracted jail space in Mansfield.

Many judges and lawyers say the county hides info about pre-trial release as a favor to the politically active (read: generously contributing) private bond industry. Abbott’s ruling says pre-trial release info should be every bit as available in jails as the phone numbers of bond agents. Common sense says the same thing, which is why county commissioners had to ask someone else for an opinion.

Cut Executive Bonuses? Naaah

The reporter was humorously fatalistic, a melding of emotions common among ink-stained wretches in times of crisis. “Every time I get an e-mail from an editor I’m afraid to open it,” he said with a laugh, describing the mood among Fort Worth Star-Telegram staffers these days. Newsroom employees have slowly been whittled down by attrition (and occasional firings) during recent years as Cowtown’s daily newspaper and its owner, the Knight Ridder news chain, struggled to appease shareholders during an era of dwindling revenues and increased competition from television and online news sources. “We must make sacrifices!” has joined “We must fill our news holes with stories that don’t piss off advertisers!” as newsroom mantras. Ever since November, when Knight Ridder’s largest shareholder demanded that the company be sold, reporters have been looking over their shoulders more often than Mike Moncrief at a family reunion.

No doubt, most reporters would rather see CEO Tony Ridder and other high-level executives get a golden shower than the golden parachutes proposed for them in 2006. The company’s compensation committee recently determined that Ridder’s bonus should be increased to 95 percent of salary, a full 10 percent increase over the previous year. Other bigwigs are also in line for increases, even as typically underpaid reporters and editors hang on for their lives. Maybe the extra money will help ease Ridder’s reported depression about seeing the family business in jeopardy, even though his weak leadership and wafting allegiance to journalistic principles helped put the newspaper chain on shaky ground to begin with.


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