Yesterday, I posted a story entitled: “How the City of Wichita bought off an investigative journalist”, which I am today retracting. In that story, I outline how Van Williams, the current public information officer for the City of Wichita was, at one time, an investigative journalist for the Wichita Eagle, covering corruption stories at City Hall. I stated that the City of Wichita hired Williams as a way to silence his investigative reporting on city activities.
This is a screenshot of that story, which I have removed from this site:
I did not contact Van Williams prior to posting this story. If I had, I would have learned some things that would have negated the story. I did contact Van Williams today, by calling City Hall. They informed me that Williams was out of the office, and took my number. Williams returned my call within three minutes.
First of all, when Van Williams was reporting on corruption at City Hall, much of the investigation was targeted at then-City Manager Chris Cherches, who resigned amid those allegations. Williams was actually hired after Cherches resignation, by then-City Manager George Kolb, who hired Williams with the goal of increasing transparency at City Hall, which is basically the exact opposite of what I posted in yesterday’s retracted story.
Second, having been at the Eagle for 17 years, Williams was paid significantly better than previously stated, which means that money was not a factor in Williams’ decision to leave the paper.
In our conversation, Williams says that he took the job at City Hall for a variety of reasons. In his last years at the Eagle, Williams was covering both City Hall, and sports, at Wichita State University, which was quite tolling. Williams told me that he was looking for a change, and that he was offered the chance to go to work in public service for the community, and that he felt this was a good decision for his family.
Williams and I also discussed his role as a public information officer. Williams points out that coming in and getting the various staff members employed by the City to be comfortable talking with the media has not been as easy to do as some might think. There are also laws and policies that Williams and city employees have to follow when releasing information.
Williams says that he always encourages everyone who works at the city to be transparent when speaking with not only members of the media, but with anyone in the general public who has questions. In regards to Kansas Open Records Act requests, Williams is involved, but the legal department, and the relevant department of the city which actually handles the information being sought both play a role.
Since writing yesterday’s story, I have also spoken with several members of the media, and former members of the media, people I know and respect, who have dealt with Van Williams in requesting information. I have been told, by many, that Van Williams is the best person to go to when seeking information, and that usually, when they have problems getting information, those problems stem from the city’s legal department, and not from the communications department, which Williams oversees.
As the editor of Kansas Exposed, and the author of yesterday’s story, I take full responsibility for the errors in yesterday’s report, both in process, fact and context. Years ago, when I began blogging, I was simply posting opinions on political matters, and very few people were reading those opinions. Today, when I write something, people do read it, and these posts have consequences.
From here on out, we will not be posting any story involving a public official without first reaching out to that public official for comment. I have apologized to Van Williams personally, and he was extremely gracious in accepting that apology. I will also apologize to Van Williams here, publicly. Mr. Williams served our community with honor and integrity as an investigative journalist, and he continues to serve with honor and integrity now, in his role at City Hall.