Tackling a complicated issue

I’ve been working for several weeks on a story on bus contracts the city has with apartment complexes. While this sounds relatively boring (and on the surface it is), it was something that needed a second look. Turns out these contracts are costing the city A LOT of money.  Writing this lengthy article did not happen overnight, and I want to provide you with a little insight in what goes into writing a story like this.

Photo by Sarah Hoffman

Perhaps the hardest part of taking on a large issue is knowing where to start. For this story, I started by requesting copies of the contracts from Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem. What I noticed that really turned me on to the fact this might be bigger than expected was the contract with The Cottages. As stipulated by the contracts, five years of service is offered to residents in exchange for the purchase of two 26-foot buses. There were no annual fees. This seemed like a rather low price for a complex the size of The Cottages.

In the course of putting together the story, the Columbia City Council voted down three contracts.  I knew there was more than met the eye on the story, and so did my editor, Scott Swafford. So I dug deeper. I got an interview with Transportation Supervisor Drew Brooks that confirmed our thoughts that these contracts were not bringing in a lot of revenue for the city.

So I dug further into the original contracts that I got from Stedem. It turned out that two three-year contracts had been approved on August 1. This was an issue. I called First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt, who told me that the approval of those contracts was an oversight. I didn’t need any more confirmation that this story had to be told.

That brings me to my motivation for publishing this story. I did not write this story for my sake; I wrote it for people who ride public transit or have an interest in what is happening with our bus system. If we have citizens that are more informed, I believe they can more effectively make their voices heard at City Council meetings. This story needed to be told because it’s central to Mayor Bob McDavid’s push for a new model for public transit.

I hope if you read it and enjoyed it but, more important, I hope you came away having learned some valuable information.

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