Investigative Journalism Missing in Muncie

We live during interesting times…everyone wants transparency yet investigative journalism is dying because the money isn’t there to support it. Maybe the money isn’t there because investigative journalism is missing.

In Muncie, Indiana we have government activists who insist on good government, and they they take matters into their own hands. However, they only hold one party accountable.

In 2011, the former mayor sets aside money for economic development but uses it to repay campaign contributors and supporters. It never makes the newspaper, but receives scathing reviews by auditors from the State Board of Accounts.

During the last four years, we had the local press pointing fingers at a county plaza project in downtown Muncie because it was “wasting taxpayer monies”,  yet the project won state awards for its design and stormwater treatment.

At the same time, we had the city controller approving disbursements for the sanitation department at Canan Commons. The general contractor made such a mess of this outdoor park it was used minimally by citizens in 2011, and it cost more than double what the county plaza project cost.

We have investigative journalists on the payroll of the local Gannett newspaper and they couldn’t uncover a trail of $1.3 million dollars vanishing from our city checking account after the elections because they were too busy writing press releases to get their favorite candidate reelected.

As for looking the other way, we followed up on another State Board of Accounts zinger by the Muncie Sanitation Department. While the local investigative journalists on payroll at The StarPress focused on a $500 American Flag bought by the department, the former officials got their hand slapped for writing over $326,000 in checks to a company called Muncie Chemical and Safety Supply Company.

According to several records we reviewed, the company was owned by Charles “Sonny” Tucker who also runs Midwest Mat, or Midwest Auto and Truck Accessories on North Wheeling Avenue. The Muncie Sanitation Department bought a variety of supplies over three years from the company ranging from hand soap to road salt. It was unclear why the sanitation department would purchase supplies from a middleman which began and ended operations during the Sharon McShurley administration. Most of the research ended with lack of corporate records at the state level, and the address listed turned out to be a door next to an existing business owned by Sonny Tucker. Mr. Tucker’s Facebook photo shows a man on the back of fishing boat at sea. Crony capitalism at its finest.

Again, this begs the obvious question, “How can this happen when we have a crack team of investigative journalists on staff at the Gannett owned StarPress, and a group of taxpayer advocates who spent the past six years advocating for good government?

More recently, while everybody was looking the other way, Big Power was looking to expand their power substations in several neighborhoods, including the intersection of Tillotson and University Avenues. In the last two weeks, driven mainly by neighbor association efforts, a new ordinance has been introduced to make the design of substations less of an eyesore and more “community-friendly” to the chagrin of Big Power.

At both the planning commission and city council meetings, a large contingency of residents supported the new ordinances. Two entities failing to show up and give their support for or against the new ordinances were IU Health/BMH Hospital and Ball State University.

Also, in the category of bad to worse, the YWCA Board of Directors apparently weren’t too upset with their residential director who looked the other way for five days while a resident at their apartments lied dead in her apartment. With accusations of abuse of power, stolen prescription medicines and criminal records looming over the administration, the recently vacated executive director’s position was filled by promoting the residential director into this position.

Instead of investigating the reports from existing and former tenants of the YWCA, the current administration interrogated them to discover who talked with Muncie Voice. The internet has many copies of the YWCA whistle-blower policies, and all of them discourage retaliation of any kind.

Yes indeed, we sure do live in interesting time.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.
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