Writer’s Block: Please Leave a Message

By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

February 12, 2015

Generally, every week this space is dedicated to a lighthearted column — a space to reflect, or reminisce or wax philosophic. Earlier in the week, I thought I would write about the Los Fresnos PRCA Rodeo, which I attended on Saturday. A rodeo provides a colorful backdrop from which to cull moments for a column. There’s stories about bull riding, or rodeo clowns. Or one can dive into an allegorical commentary by doing something like exploring the life of a rodeo cowboy.

But this week I don’t need to draw inspiration from an event in order to craft a story that serves as a metaphor for life in general. This week I don’t need a metaphor at all. Why? Because this week I’ve been confronted with a few ethical situations reminiscent of those old movie-of-the-week matinees I used to watch as a kid after school.

Some of our readers may have noticed that mine is a new face at the PRESS and Parade. Our publisher, Ray Quiroga, named me editor at the beginning of this year. And thus far I’ve been fortunate to have received many warm welcomes from residents and local officials alike. (Thank you!) Though I’m a lifelong Valley resident, I’m new to the Laguna Madre region, so I’ve been working hard to get up to speed on the goings on here in my new community.

I’ve worked as a journalist and photojournalist for a few years now and in that time I’ve met a lot of people from many different stations in life. From adults to kids, students to professionals, politicians to philanthropists, I’ve enjoyed the honor of learning and sharing many stories about the community. One of the things that makes that possible is having open and transparent lines of communication between the press, the community, public officials and government entities.

And so, at last, we have arrived to the After School Special moment. I’ve discovered something unique about part of this region: it can be more than a little difficult to get in touch with public officials. I spent two days this week trying to arrange a meeting — or even just a phone call — between myself and the mayor or city manager of the City of South Padre Island, only to be met with red tape. I can’t even find a publicly accessible phone number for the mayor anywhere. In all my years as a journalist, I’ve never encountered something like this before.

Calls answered at City Hall have directed me to his email address. An email directed to both him and the city manager was returned with a phone call and a couple of emails from the City’s public information officer. He, in turn, provided me with a copy of the City’s official guide for dealing with the media. That’s quite the to-do for a simple request for 10 minutes of time from two public officials whose responsibility it is to meet with the public.

I’ll admit, the questions I have for them may not be pleasant ones to answer. I’m investigating a story about another public official, but answering questions is part of the job description.

Then again, maybe not. In Section III of the aforementioned media policy, City employees are specifically directed to refrain from discussing with reporters, “Questions involving City integrity, such as ethics.” I wonder what exactly that means? Our readers will be able to read a copy of that policy for themselves on our website at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to arrange a meeting. This week’s deadline may have passed, but next week’s hasn’t.

City of South Padre Island Media Policy (PDF)

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