On March 25, a story in The Star by Patrick McCreless reported that the Anniston Museum Complex will become a city department. The next day, a story by Eddie Burkhalter told of the resignation of the museums’ executive director, Cheryl Bragg, quoting her letter to the museum board that “…it seems an appropriate time for me to step aside as these changes occur.”
City Manager Brian Johnson was reported as saying an ordinance establishing a department of museum operations would become effective when the governor signs the bill providing that future city employees will not be covered by civil service. What does this bill have to do with changes in the museums’ organization? The story noted that museum employees are already city employees. Then, aren’t they under civil service now and therefore in the future?
The new Anniston civil-service law will keep civil service for present city employees. How many museum employees are there? The new department will report to the city manager rather than to the museum Board of Directors. Will the board be abolished or retained in an advisory status?
According to board member Paula Watkins, the board unanimously agreed to ask the city for department status after months of discussion. Board meetings are public but The Star did not report such discussions or the action of the board. The planned changes led to Bragg’s resignation.
Her letter to the board said she had planned to stay until 2016. Why did she decide to leave? The story said The Star was not able to contact Bragg. Readers can hope the paper will try again. Watkins told The Star that the resignation wasn’t much of a surprise, that “it’s been a discussion point for some period of time.” A recent letter to Speak Out said Bragg was leaving in “…disappointment, frustration and bitterness” (April 1, page 8A). The situation needs follow-up coverage.
The March 25 story said part of the board’s funding now comes from an annual city appropriation. Yet, Watkins told The Star that becoming a city department would give the museums the benefit of “obligatory appropriations” from the city. So, what changes? How much does the city now give to the museums? What is the total budget for the museum complex?
The Star provided excellent coverage of a complex continuing story, the proposed law to make names of those who administer lethal drugs in state executions and the identities of manufacturers of the drugs “confidential,” not available to the public, the news media, or even courts of law. The articles reported that the necessary lethal drugs are increasingly hard to find and that the state has already run out of one basic drug. The drugs might be easier to purchase if the manufacturers were protected against political pressures, but how could a secret process ensure that the state is using drugs that meet scientific standards?
The eight articles by Tim Lockette explained the issue in readable English and followed the process of legislative debate step by step. Views of experts were considered, and the experiences of other states. The Star is one of three news organizations that has filed for information on drugs used in executions under Alabama’s open records law. The others are the Associated Press and The Montgomery Advertiser. The requests were denied by the Department of Corrections. The articles ran March 7, March 18 through 23 and March 27.
Story deserved better
In “The Night writer,” Brett Buckner contributed a warm story about a major national poetry award won by Ansel Elkins, who was raised in Anniston and Talladega. The story included an interesting interview with Elkins and selections from her winning poetry collection. It’s a good story, but given the local ties of Elkins, it deserved better play in The Star and more biographical information.
Her father, Ken Elkins, was a legendary Star photographer, and her mother, Scarlett Saavedra, worked for The Star before becoming a college teacher at Talladega College and elsewhere. The story didn’t tell us where Elkins graduated from high school or what college she may have attended. She is now living in Greensboro, N.C. Is she a fulltime writer or does she also have a “day job” there?
The photo that ran with the story was not worth using. It was too dark to make out the people identified as her parents. The child on her mother’s back was not named. A good photo provided by Yale University ran in several newspapers. (March 16, E4).
Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star