The moral from the Des Moines water flap-Don’t kill the messenger

One thing Water District 54 commissioners and Des Moines officials can agree on is Commissioner John Rayback's comment that "the City and this District seem to have communication problems."

Water commissioners are still sore about having to put in a new water main in the 1990s when the city widened the fill where Marine View Drive crosses Des Moines Creek and then having to do it again a few years later when Des Moines put in a bridge. The first loan won't be paid off until 2014 and the second loan runs until 2025, the commissioners complain.

I suspect the city, on the other hand, thinks the water district is too small to supply enough water for their vision of an upgraded downtown and marina district. They would prefer the larger Highline Water District take it over.

So the stormwater really hit the fan when our writer Keith Daigle, covering the May 13 Des Moines City Council meeting, reported that Des Moines city staffers charged the water district reneged on plans to upgrade the downtown water system, thus halting economic growth.

To be clear, Daigle did not say the district had backed out, city staffers said the district backed out.

Daigle also did not say the city handed the district the project on a silver platter. Mayor Bob Sheckler said that and Daigle reported it.

Normally, the water commissioners and their supporters would have been in the council audience and given the lawmakers an earful during public comments.

Daigle would dutifully take it all down and produce a "He said, She said" story and let the reader decide.

But apparently, the commissioners didn't realize the water district would be discussed and they did not attend.

Daigle did go by the water district office the next morning but no one was available to talk. Faced by his deadline, he turned in the article and we ran with the breaking news, instead of holding it for a week or two.

Naturally, when the water commissioners read the story, they were very upset.

They still have to work with city staffers and lawmakers, so some of the anger got misplaced onto the messenger-Daigle -- instead of the accusers.

If there was any misinformation published under Keith Daigle's byline, it came from the people that the water district has to negotiate with.

Since the water district had not received its turn at bat in the first article, I agreed to let them swing away via a letter in the same spot as the previous article. A front-page letter, even with a lengthy explanatory editor's note, is unusual but it was the fair thing to do. We also put Rayback's entire letter on our website

Again, to be clear, reporting on the Des Moines Council does not mean we take the city's side. Likewise, printing Rayback's letter does not mean we are on the district's side.

Although this is not his day job, freelancer Daigle has done a good job for us reporting on complicated issues in Des Moines and Burien.

There are indications that after all this open airing of mutual grievances in the community newspaper and website, the district and city will cooperate.

If they truly reach such a Kumbaya moment, Keith's next assignment is covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I've been lucky to be able to write about some of my favorite local media idols by finding a Highline connection. For Pat Cashman, Stan Boreson and Dave Ross, it was their Burien performances with ChoralSounds Northwest. With radio godfather Pat O'Day, it was Schick Shadel Hospital on Ambaum.

For former rock jock Robert O. Smith, the Highline link might be more tenuous, but here goes.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column defending the entertainment value of progressive talk radio. I mentioned that Jim Ward, from Stephanie Miller's morning show, does the funniest impressions since local legend Robert O. Smith.

Imagine my thrill when less than 24 hours after the column hit the Highline Times website, I got an e-mail from Robert O. himself, thanking me.

We e-mailed back and forth about meeting for coffee when he was in town.

I'll never get that honor. Robert O. Smith died last week of pancreatic and liver cancer at age 67. I know from watching Robinson Newspapers colleague Tim St. Clair battle with pancreatic cancer, it is a particularly nasty way to die.

The passing of Robert O. (I can't imagine referring to him as Mr. Smith) comes not long after the deaths of two self-described "old farts," Lan Roberts and Jerry Kay, who greatly entertained us baby boomers on the radio during our formative years.

During my teens and twenties, I followed Robert O. up and down the AM and FM radio dials. I even lost precious weekend sleep time by staying up late to watch him bat-flap through horrid horror movies on Channel 13 as Dr. Zingrr. (It was kind of a pre "Mystery Science Theater" thing.)

I can see my two tech-savvy sons laughing at their old-fart father. But I feel kind of sorry for them. Even with all their great new entertainment devices, they don't get to hear their music on the radio, enhanced by the talent of the likes of Robert O.

(For a taste of Robert O's multiple talents, from animation to power lifting, visit www.robertosmith.com.)

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