March 05, 2008

Has Post-Dispatch resorted to bullying widows to make news?

My story yesterday, Post-Dispatch platform is a fraud, has drawn more interest than anything I have posted before. And it should. The post was about a story written by Paul Hampel, who apparently had a bad day and decided to take it out on citizens who dare to question their local governments. Actually, after speaking with one of the people Hampel attacked, it appears it wasn't simply a bad day on Hampel's part, but rather a planned attack.

Sandy Waters is a 64 year old widow who has lived in St. Peters for over 34 years. She has been a trustee in her subdivision for over 20 years, a job that comes with no pay but a lot of headaches. She managed her son's baseball team when he was younger because no else wanted to do it. Sandy did all this while working part time in between being a mother and wife full time.

While she followed local politics, Sandy had never spoken at a St. Peters council meeting until 2005. What made her take the time to get involved? Sandy was watching a city workshop one night at home when Alderman Jerry Hollingsworth mentioned an idea in which St. Peters citizens could help out the community by paying for a street sign which read, "Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25". Sandy thought it was a good idea and that night went up to the council meeting and publicly volunteered to pay for such a sign. Her alderman, Patrick Barclay then followed Sandy's lead and also pledged to pay for a sign. Since then Sandy has been a semi regular at the meetings, sometimes praising the city for its actions, sometimes criticizing St. Peters but always caring about her city.

If you read the Post-Dispatch's Platform, you would expect them to celebrate and encourage citizens like Sandy rather than compare them to a murderer, but that is exactly what Paul Hampel and the Post did. Hampel called Sandy about ten days ago and left a message that he was with the paper and would like to talk to her. At first Sandy was hesitant since she had no idea who Hampel was or why a reporter would want to talk to her, but after talking with a friend she decided to call him back.

Sandy says that Hampel told her he covered local government and that Tim Bryant, a Post-Dispatch reporter who covers St. Peters, had said she was very educated on issues involving property values and taxes and that is what he wanted to talk to her about. Sandy thought that was odd and told Hampel the only reason Bryant might have said that is because she once spoke about issues regarding property values at a public meeting but she didn't consider herself an expert by any means.

Hampel followed up by asking Sandy about speaking at St. Peters city meetings without ever telling her what he really intended to write about. In fact, Sandy says when she would tell Hampel about some of the reasons she was involved, such as a statement made by former alderman David Hayes that "There's no free speech in this chamber," Hampel would act shocked that such things really happened. As Hampel reeled Sandy in he got more personal, asking her if she was married, and Sandy opened up to him explaining she lost her husband in 2003 and that she would always miss him.

Hampel seized upon this opening to ask Sandy if the reason she went to St. Peters meetings was to fill this void. (In the article Hampel quoted a psychiatrist who said "gadflies" often attended public meetings because this "is their only dynamic, if you will, in which they're interacting with people.") Sandy was insulted by the question because it insinuated her involvement in the community was some kind of a mental illness and that this involvement could replace her husband. As Sandy became suspicious of Hampel's true intentions he followed up with a question about whether she could ever become violent over the actions of the city. (In the article Hampel indicates he asked another of the "gadflies" if he could see himself committing an act of violence like Charles "Cookie" Thornton, who killed five people at a Kirkwood council meeting last month.)

At this point Sandy was growing even more suspicious of Hampel's motives and he finally mentioned the Cookie Thornton killings in Kirkwood before informing her that he had to go. It was only after she got off the phone that Sandy first suspected Hampel was going to try to compare her to Thornton and her suspicions came true when the article came out Monday.

Hampel's article was titled "After Kirkwood shootings, gadflies under the microscope." Hampel wrote "Often called gadflies, they see themselves as champions of freedom and watchdogs of local government. But post-Kirkwood, a conflict has arisen between security and First Amendment rights. Where these critics may once have been seen as annoying, if sometimes right, some are now being looked at as possible threats."
Gadfly is a term the Post has used in describing Thornton ("Charles 'Cookie' Thornton was the town gadfly", "It's not that Plummer thought the town gadfly....") And it is also the term Hampel used to describe this 64 year old widow whose only crime appears to be that she loves her home town and wanted to get involved.

According to Sandy, that is exactly what St. Peters Mayor Len Pagono told Hampel when he spoke with him. Pagano called Sandy and told her that he spoke with Hampel before the article ran and told him how she loved her city and her neighborhood, that she was civic minded and that he had known her for 25 years and considered her a friend. However, don't look for Pagano's kind words about Sandy in the article because they are no where to be found. Bullies like Hampel have no need to let the truth get in the way of their attempt to make 64 year old civic minded widows like Sandy Waters look dangerous.


Rick Fischer said...

I contacted Paul Hampel and the Post asking them if they wished to comment on Ms. Waters allegations earlier today. Hampel declined although he did leave a message with Waters today. The Post has not offered a comment although it did indicate the allegations are being looked into. I will have more on Thursday.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how these guys can get away with this?? I wonder if they would have treated thier own mother like they have treated Sandy Waters.

This is "Low Down" Sandy is one of the finest people in St Peters, and I feel she must have been targeted, because when she had concerns about city matters she was usually right and I guess someone is so threated they are trying to KEEP HER QUIET. What happened to the code of conduct the Post is suppose to live by. I guess it is out the window.

They should issue a retraction and thank you Rick for trying to clear Mrs Waters good name these people don't deserve to be in the same room with her.

Anonymous said...

So now showing up at a Council Meeting more than once makes you a threat? What does running for office or voting in an election make you? Paul is an idiot who fits in very nicely at the Post Dispatch.

Hey Paul, what void does being a sniper-writer for the PD fill for you? I guess you're really showing it to all the kids who kicked your ass in grade school, huh?

Must be nice to get paid to make harassing phone calls.

Anonymous said...

The Post and Paul should "Rewrite this article and insert their own names if they had any guts. They won't admit any wrong doing. How are these people going to get their good names back. Now you are a possible threat if you stand up for something.

It is alarming they can do this to good, honorable people.