December 16, 2007

Lee Enterprises; Where your advertising dollars buy you more than just ads

Lee Enterprises is the owner of the two major newspapers in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, The Suburban Journals and the Post-Dispatch. In St. Charles County these papers became pawns for the builders and developers who poured in their advertising dollars. Things haven't changed much. As exhibit A, I offer the following column with my remarks in red. The remarks relate to the accuracy of the article and not to the accuracy of statements or quotes by any individuals.

Council votes to vacate Koch Road (Wrong. See below.)

By Elizabeth Perry, Saturday, December 15, 2007 12:27

The O'Fallon City Council voted 6-2 Wednesday to vacate Old Koch Road, a stretch of land that is currently under fierce legal dispute in the city. ( The council voted to refer the case to planning & zoning to discuss the possibility of vacating Koch Road.) The dissenting votes came from Councilmen Jeff Yelich, Ward 3, and Daniel Christoff, Ward 1. Yelich said he voted against the measure to vacate the already vacated stretch of road because it is currently under litigation. "I thought we should stay out of it until St. Charles County and the courts have decided the appeal," Christoff said. "I don't want to be a target of another lawsuit."

City Attorney Kevin O'Keefe said it was illegal for St. Charles County to have the road vacated because it was up to the city of O'Fallon to vacate the road. O'Keefe then said his comments were "off the record.""I don't want to get in the middle of their dispute. I want to see that we do all what is possible to bring peace to the homeowners," O'Keefe said. O'Keefe said he wanted to ensure the homeowners who purchased houses built on the vacated road would not be forced to move.

The original Koch Road was vacated in 2006 after developer Hyland Green, LLC, asked the St. Charles County Council to approve vacating the road, declaring it "useless." (Wrong on two points. First, the vacation of Koch Road did not happen until February of 2007. The writer of this story, Elizabeth Perry, wrote a story a couple of weeks ago in which she made this same "mistake." I called her at that time and explained that the road was not vacated, if at all, until 2007 and why this was crucial to the story. Perry told me she had relied on a previous story in the paper written by another reporter that included the incorrect date. I followed up the conversation by emailing Perry more information. No one is claiming Koch Road was vacated in 2006 and this fact is easily verified by a review of the records. The reason the date is crucial is that the road was torn out in 2006 and O'Fallon issued building permits in 2006. However, the Journal has never reported the illegal removal of the road by the builder or that O'Fallon issued building permits to build on a public road before it was vacated. Of course, it is easier to avoid these subjects if you simply fail to report the true date the road was vacated. The second mistake in this sentence regards the statement that Hyland Green, the developer, asked the County to vacate the road. The request to vacate the road was made by 12 residents and Hyland Green could not make the request under the law.) The developer built another road, also called Koch Road, to replace it as part of the Hyland Green subdivision. Hyland Green sold a large portion of Hyland Green subdivision to Chesterfield-based McBride & Son Homes. McBride built four homes on the old Koch Road site, but McBride was forced to stop building when neighbors sued to have the land turned back into a road, based on the legal argument that St. Charles County had no right to vacate the road. ( Wrong. McBride continued to build houses after the lawsuit was filed and only stopped once O'Fallon was forced to stop issuing building permits, which was about 14 months after the suit was filed.) The neighbors won their lawsuit when St. Charles County Circuit Judge Lucy Rauch ruled the road was vacated illegally. St. Charles County is appealing the decision.

McBride also is suing the city because it stopped issuing building permits after Rauch's decision. (I was unable to file any pending suit by McBride & Sons against O'Fallon as indicated in the article.) Homeowners who bought houses built on the disputed road filed a lawsuit against McBride, claiming they were not informed of the precarious legal status of their homes. (The homeowners were not told their homes were built on a public right of way.)

Most of the mistakes noted above can be attributed to sloppy reporting. Very sloppy reporting. From the headline to the last line, an uniformed reader remained uninformed and, after reading the article, misinformed. However, this was not simply sloppy reporting.

When I spoke to Ms. Perry after her first article and explained the story was incorrect, I asked if the Journal would be filing a correction. Having dealt with the Journal before I knew how they handle mistakes in their reporting, intentional or not. They ignore them. However, I did not expect a reporter to print facts she knew were not true as Perry did. Of course, the Journal won't be reporting the real story here about McBride & Sons illegally destroying a public road with O'Fallons help. The best we can hope for is that the Journal simply stops spreading misinformation.

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