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An award and an honorable mention

Posted: March 21, 2014 8:23 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2014 5:00 a.m.

I was absolutely thrilled Saturday with the C-I’s win of the Reid Montgomery FOI award from the S.C. Press Association. It was a real surprise. A good number of papers in this state spend a lot of their time on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and open government issues. Some of them file FOIA requests right and left. Some papers’ stories end up setting legal precedents.

I think the reason we won is that we simply and straight-forwardly showed both our readers and certain officials that we believe the public has a right to know what’s really going on in their communities.

So, while winning the Montgomery award was a surprise, it was certainly a nice one.

It was also nice to learn that we had won some other awards, including a third place nod for me in the reporting-in-depth category.

I spent three months on investigating exactly “Who owns KershawHealth?” That question served as the title of my entry from last July. It took time to communicate with hospital and county officials, pore through documents dating back 60 years and then try to make sense of it all.

It all started when Kershaw County Council Chairman Gene Wise said in April 2013 that he would “much rather look at other agencies than close down the hospital” during a presentation by KershawHealth officers. That presentation ended with a request for the county to take over deficit funding of emergency management services (EMS). Wise said other communities, most notably Union County, N.C., had leased its county hospital facility to Carolinas HealthCare System. Union County received a down payment of $54 million and an agreement for $6 million annually to lease the facilities.

A few weeks before my story ran, KershawHealth announced it could lose $32 million by 2018 if South Carolina doesn’t do an about-face on not expanding Medicaid here, among other factors. Certainly, leasing -- or, dare we say, even selling -- KershawHealth to a third party can seem mighty attractive.

I’ve already stated why I don’t think that’s a good idea: primarily, that Kershaw County would lose local control of the healthcare organization and, likely, its mission to provide quality healthcare to all citizens regardless of their socio-economic status.

But, the question was asked; we had to try to answer it. As it turned out, though, the answer was murky, at best. Most of the evidence seemed to point to Kershaw County Council as the ultimate authority, but some of KershawHealth’s facilities are owned by the organization, not the county.

Soon, possibly tonight, the KershawHealth Board of Trustees is supposed to get its first look at a strategic plan to address the future shortfalls. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve come up with.

I also won an honorable mention -- does that mean fourth place? -- for column writing. In a nice little twist to this year’s awards, West Wateree Chronicle Editor and C-I page designer Tenell Felder beat me, earning third place in the same category.

In both our cases, we were being recognized for three columns each that we wrote between November 2012 and October 2013. Tenell’s columns included “Merida doesn’t need a makeover,” “Faith at times of tragedy” and “Another view of Plan B.”

The first of the three I submitted was “Gang shooting was shock to the system.” It focused on the fifth anniversary ... to the day ... of the gang-related shooting death of Camden High School student Michael Smith. I noted that former C-I staff reporter Miciah Bennett was writing a series of articles looking back at the shooting: what led up to it, the reaction to Michael’s death and where the community still needed to “go” in dealing with gang violence.

By Michael’s death in December 2007, I had reported on relatively low-level gang-related activity, primarily through our weekly crime report. Nothing prepared us, though, for Michael’s death. His was, thankfully, the only gang-related shooting death we have ever had in Kershaw County. Perhaps that’s because many of us are trying to follow a simple rule we came up with: we have to be a better gang than the gangs.

Next up, “The civil right of marriage equality.” In that March 2013 column, I argued that we should not discriminate -- on any level -- against those who fall in love with, and wish to marry, someone of the same gender as themselves. As part of my argument, I asked the following questions in terms of who should and shouldn’t marry:

“But what about the black man who married the white woman? The Asian woman who married the South American man? The Christian who married the Jew? The Buddhist who married the atheist? The Republican who married the Democrat?”

You get the point.

Finally, I included “An hour in the classroom,” a more light-hearted column about the morning I visited with Erica Peake’s writing class at North Central High School. It afforded me the chance to talk about the C-I, Camden Media Co.’s other publications, the history of the newspaper business and my role as an editor and reporter. I mentioned that Peake’s students were “bright and inquisitive” as well as “enthusiastic.”

My ultimate message to them was to stay in school. After all, a good journalist has to know how to research, ask questions and write stories that “inform, educate and entertain readers.”

Hopefully, I’ve been doing that in a satisfactory manner during my nearly 14 years here. I promise to keep trying.


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