Maybe You'll Never Know The Answer


Your friendly editorial and occasional column writer spent the better part of two decades trying to figure out just what was going on in Shawnee City Hall and why anyone would let anything like that occur in such a puzzling way. Back then, The Countywide News Inc. was publishing The Shawnee Sun in an office on Broadway a block and a half south of Shawnee's City Hall. The positive was that City Hall was close to us. The negative was that the city manager or anybody else who worked in City Hall could march down and chew me or others out good and proper. Alas. Most all journalists live in that kind of world.

Frankly, that never bothered me much because before The Trotter family came this far west, I spent two or three years covering Memphis City Hall for The Commercial Appeal and had been cussed and discussed by the very best. Furthermore, like Shawnee's center of government, the Memphis City Hall was also a marble mansion. The difference was that the Memphis building had a way of getting in the news all by itself.

Unlike Shawnee's City Hall, which has one floor at street level with a basement below that, the heartbeat of the City of Memphis was five stories tall with two additional dugouts underground for parking. Every now and then a slab would fall off the building and terrify innocent folks casually strolling down the sidewalk. When that happened, it was an easy Page 1 story for any lucky reporter who came upon it - and you would have to be blind and deaf to be in City Hall and not see, hear or at least be told about the latest marble collapse. The miracle of it all was that in the years I was there, nobody ever got hit by falling marble.

Even when nothing was falling from above, as a River City television newsperson might say, Memphis was a great place to capture the news. The mayor back then was Henry Loeb. As long as The Commercial Appeal editorial writers refrained from trying to take Mayor Loeb down, I got along famously with him. I had a standing Monday through Friday appointment with mayor at 4:30 pm and it was not unusual for His Honor to hand me a bunch of his unopened mail. While we talked, I would open his mail and sometimes come up with a sizzling story.

One of the best stories I wrote while there was a meeting between the mayor and Lance "Sweet Willie Wine" Watson, a self-appointed Beale Street philosopher. When it came to running Memphis, it would be fair to say that Mayor Loeb and Sweet Willie Wine were about 10,000 miles apart. But both men agreed that I could sit in with them and my presence didn't deter either from growling at the other. The whole thing was fun to watch and fun to write. The story wound up on the front page the next morning and yours truly got more phone calls than ever before or ever since. Every call was a pat on the back. That doesn't happen often ... and you can believe that.

But back to Shawnee, Tecumseh, Pottawatomie County and surrounding areas. One of the things I never got to the bottom of was why the City of Shawnee started a tax fight with the area's Indian tribes a few years back. Of course, I have only a vague idea about what those special and expensive out-of-state lawyers told the mayor and city commissioners behind closed doors ... but I did research this issue as deeply as I could and came out thinking the city was dead wrong on that issue.

In the end, of course, Shawnee backed away from the whole thing without really saying why. My only consolation was that to my knowledge, nobody else in this business was able to crack that nut either ... if anybody else was actually trying. Frankly, I also don't know much about that.

One thing I can take some satisfaction in as I get older - and I'm a cool 81 now - is that The Countywide & Sun is as tough and feisty and honest as my wife Gloria and I tried to make it during our ownership. Suzie Campbell and the crew she has assembled are doing a wonderful job. When The Oklahoma Press Association awards were announced a few weeks ago, this newspaper swept the field in its category. While the Trotters aren't through yet, it's nevertheless very satisfying to us to watch a younger generation follow in our footsteps.

Keep it up, youngsters. Nothing is more important to a community than a strong newspaper. Absolutely nothing!


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