If I didn't ask these questions, who would?

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

Despite some of the criticism I have received as a journalist in my coverage of the recent news surrounding the Yazoo City Housing Authority, I stand by my work I have provided through The Yazoo Herald.

In fact, I will go on record as saying that I am proud of it.

The news of improper record keeping, altered minutes and questions surrounding credit card charges made by the leaders of the Housing Authority came to my office several weeks ago. There were concerns and questions brought forward to me internally by individuals associated with the Housing Authority.

Having said that, I did my job as a journalist of presenting these concerns to our readers. The records were made public, and readers can decide for themselves whether the expenditures and questions are reasonable. I presented facts and pursued questions through documents that are available to the public. 

I filled out the proper public record requests, filing Freedom of Information requests. I personally took a look at Housing Authority minutes that were questioned as being altered after the fact. Looking at those documents with my own two eyes, I saw evidence that the minutes were altered. I described what I observed for the public to see.

In relation to the credit card charges made by Housing Authority leaders, I did have several questions about certain charges. Who wouldn’t question large expenses for travel? Of course, a charge made to fashion designer Michael Kors attracted my interest. And, yes, large amounts charged for private retirement parties and meals sparked an interest.

I reported those findings and followed up with explanations surrounding those charges by the former Housing Authority director Betty Reed.

Although nothing illegal may have occurred, in my opinion I do feel some actions and charges were questionable. I feel it is my job as a journalist and a taxpayer to question how funds were being spent.

During my coverage of the Housing Authority, I have been demanded to issue an apology. I have been told I have been unjust and that I damaged the integrity of the Housing Authority. Developing a tough skin in this business is mandatory, and I took each criticism without inserting my opinion…until now.

I did not damage the integrity of the Housing Authority. I merely reported questions, concerns and asked for explanations. All of which, I printed in factual reporting. And I refuse to apologize for doing my job.

There is no other important role in our society than that of a free press to act as a watchdog over those in power. If we did not have journalists serving as those watchdogs, citizens are on their own to determine if their elected officials and leaders are doing their jobs or if they can trust those in power.

I am honoring my role as a watchdog every time I question faulty minutes, every time I inspect questionable funds and credit card charges, every time I file a Freedom of Information request and every time I ask tough questions that need answers.

It is my job. It is a job that I take pride in for myself, my family, my community and my profession. It is my job to ask those questions and hold people accountable.

Honestly, the things I have personally witnessed in my coverage of the Housing Authority left me with the desire to pursue the story, find answers and provide the coverage our readers deserve. I think our readers are smart enough to determine for themselves if the expenditures reported were reasonable or not.

I have always said that I don’t make the news, I merely report it. The concerns merited a story, and it was a story that needed to be investigated.

Yes, I stand by my work as a journalist and my work through The Yazoo Herald. Despite the harsh criticism I have endured, it’s no skin off my back. If nothing else, I hope the coverage will remind local leaders that The Yazoo Herald is here in this community to serve as a watchdog.

Maybe leaders will remember that.

I know I will remember. And I will report each and every case that I witness and every question I feel needs to be asked.

Because if I didn’t, who would?