Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farmers' Market, Las Cruces 23Aug2014

I'm a regular at the Saturday morning Famers' Market in Las Cruces.

Addicted to it, you might say: not only to the fresh bread and vegetables and fruits we enjoy for the week between markets; and not only to local food, to fresh food that didn't waste a bunch of petroleum getting itself here, to buying from trusted friends instead of faceless corporations, to having some clue what's in the food I'm eating; but also to the friendship of vendors and fellow shoppers, old friends and new, great conversations, and a ready supply of enjoyable images to feed my camera.

I keep meaning to post a few of those images each Saturday afternoon, but rarely manage it.  These, at least, I did get ready, and would have posted Sunday except that Sunday was for my column from the Sun-News.

Note: I shoot street photographs in public places.  If anyone sees himself or herself in one of 'em, and wants a copy, s/he should email me and let me know, and I'll email one back.  Equally, if you see yourself or your spouse or your did or your dog up here and would prefer I delete the image, let me know -- by email or with a comment on the blog -- and I'll delete it immediately.

These are from Saturday, 23 August:

Man on Truck I

Man on Truck II

A Family Saturday

Music Lover

Man Photographing Musician

Girl with Puppy

Questions about public funding to run a non-existent law enforcement academy

In 2011 Doña Ana Community College, which teaches some law enforcement classes, wanted to start a law enforcement academy (LEA).

DASO and LCPD already had academies. Neither wanted to throw in with DACC. DACC rep Richard DeRouen made a presentation to the accrediting agency, but the agency wasn't encouraging and hasn't done anything since to accredit the non-existent LEA.

Nevertheless, DACC got the feds to shell out $156,468 for the 2012-2013 academic year for salaries, uniforms, and a fancy shooting simulator.

DACC listed LEA classes in an online catalog, despite having no such academy, then reportedly told students who applied that the classes were canceled.

DACC spent the money and got another $134,183 for 2013-2014. DeRouen received more than $80K for one year's salary and benefits out of the grants. I asked a DACC rep what DeRouen was actually doing for the LEA then, but he didn't know. There's still no LEA. (For this year DACC sought just $3,250 for replacement ammo for the shooting simulator, used in a self-defense class.)

People within DACC had questions; but one employee who asked them of DeRouen reported he got angry. One instructor was heard asking DeRouen, when the initial money came in, whether the deal was all right. DeRouen assured him it was. In August 2012 a DACC employee wrote DACC Prexy Margie Huerta a letter suggesting DACC had put the cart before the horse by obtaining and spending funds before creating the institution the funds were to help run. Before leaving for another job, the employee also warned Andy Burke that he'd get in trouble over this stuff. Burke reportedly indicated he didn't want to know.

Sadly, all this compounds lingering questions about DACC based on Huerta's scandalous handling of the Nursing Program accreditation loss. (The bulk of the activity in both programs preceded both Garrey Carruthers's NSMU Presidency and the tenure of DACC President Renay Scott.)

Did DACC tell the State it didn't have an LEA teaching classes? If so, when? Should money have been returned? Were the class listings misleading? Was all this on the up-and-up, or did DACC defraud the government? (The funds were federal grants administered by the New Mexico Department of Education.)

DACC won't say. DeRouen told me he “wasn't comfortable” talking about this matter. He referred me to a Public Information Officer who didn't know a lot and refused to let me speak with DeRouen.

DACC's applications boasted an Advisory Council “meeting twice a year to ensure that the program continues to meet student educational needs.” The phrase, “the program continues to meet student needs,” suggests a program that exists. If it didn't exist, how could it continue or meet student needs?
DACC listed as Council members a who's who of law enforcement; but several named members recalled no such meetings; and although NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez confirmed attending meetings, he conceded other agencies were less regular in attendance.

DACC said the LEA would get accredited. That hasn't happened. It's not on the agenda for the next meeting. A key factor appears to be strong inter-agency support, which is highly unlikely.

Sheriff Todd Garrison told me DASO wouldn't actively oppose the proposal, but isn't supporting it. LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya said he'd told DACC representatives “we do not want to go that route.” Another law enforcement official described “absolutely no interest in having DACC train DASO officers. (There are cogent reasons, which I'll post on my blog.)

At least current online listings now warn that “Accreditation is Pending”; but where accreditation is highly unlikely, even that could be a little misleading, though literally true.
Maybe these questions have easy answers; but if so, why didn't DeRouen offer any?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 31 August.  It wasn't easy to write.  Some public documents raised interesting questions; but the key figure at DACC wouldn't talk with me wasn't "comfortable" talking with me about them, and questions raised by DACC critics sometimes seemed as if they might go too far.
Below, I want to amplify what the column said on a couple of points.]

[A key issue is that throughout this odd story, it probably should have been fairly obvious that accreditation for the proposed law enforcement academy was, at best, a long-shot.  That's partly because a key issue for the accrediting agency appeared to be need: was there inter-agency support for this, did local law enforcement entities want to join in the project or would they hire cadets from the DACC law enforcement academy?"
The answer was a resounding "No!" although gussied up a bit for courtesy's sake.   I talked to some very experienced law enforcement officers and trainers and they gave some pretty good reasons for their positions.  It was clearly not merely a matter of "turf."
First of all, and meaning no insult to DACC's law enforcement instructors, DASO and LCPD each have an academy.  There are good reasons to keep running those and hire graduates from them.
1. When you train cadets you gain an extraordinary amount of insight into those cadets.  Who learns more quickly or more slowly?  Which cadet finds which areas easy and which areas difficult? The insights gleaned from training the men could inform assignments and conceivably even save lives.
2. I was repeatedly told that the (proposed) DACC Law Enforcement Academy would be more "academic." 
3. Institutions training cadets include in the program a lot of policy points and other information specific to the institution that's doing the training and will do most of the hiring.  That doesn't hurt a DASO Academy cadet who later goes to Farmington or NMSU; but a new DASO officer who had trained elsewhere would have missed that material, and might need extra time to ingest it.
Since these points were articulated to the DACC folks, and since those folks went ahead and procured (and spent) funds for their project, one wonders why.  They had to know accreditation was highly unlikely.  Why did they proceed?  Ambition, I'm guessing; but if that spilled over into misleading students and/or the government, it doesn't seem appropriate.]

[Another point worth touching on is DACC's response to questioning.  DeRouen spoke with me briefly, but soon announced he was "uncomfortable" talking with me and referred me to a Public Information Officer.   The PIO was courteous, but when he learned the subject of my interest he said he wanted to check with DeRouen and get back to me.  He did, the next day, saying DeRouen didn't want to talk with me.  He offered to take my questions and obtain answers.  I initially rejected that, because I was pretty sure he wouldn't know the answers -- and if he brought back a non-responsive or incomplete answer from DeRouen, I'd be waiting a while for an answer to a follow-up question.  Then I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I called back and asked him several pertinent questions.  Mostly he didn't know the answers.  In one case he answered, but I'm pretty sure he was (unintentionally) wrong.   I reiterated that I could talk with DeRouen with the PIO on the line; but he never called back to accept that suggestion or answer any of the questions I'd already asked him.
I  have a hard job understanding that.  Always seems to me that folks are usually better off giving their best explanations and answers. (That's not necessarily true when one is being investigated by law enforcement, which may be the case here.  I'd heard so, but didn't include it in the column because I wasn't certain it was accurate.)

The PIO insisted DeRouen was upset because I'd accused him of defrauding the government.  I hadn't.  Rather, that was the question I was trying to answer: I'd seen documents that could be read that way, and were being read that way, and wanted to see whether there was a better way to read them or some additional information that would show there was nothing at all off-key about this. 

Maybe there's some easy explanation.  If so, I'd have appreciated hearing it, and perhaps writing about something more fun this week.]


Sunday, August 24, 2014

In Hembrillo Canyon

We spent last Saturday in Hembrillo Canyon, which really should be Hembrilla Canyon.

Mostly you can't get there, because it's within White Sands Missile Range. We learned, among other things, that 59% of the gypsum that gives White Sands National Monument its name is actually within WSMR, and just 37% in the Monument. We were duly instructed not to photograph any structures and also not to step on, kick, or pick up unexploded ordinance.

We went with the Native Plant Society, on an outing led by a fellow with one of the world's great jobs: Dave Anderson, WSMR's gardener. As WSMR's Land Manager, he gets to wander at will some very fine country that is exceptionally uncrowded. He was a fun and knowledgeable guide.

We visited the Range's northernmost population of Night-Blooming Cereus. Easily overlooked, this cactus has a very nice flower it deigns to show off only at night – and only on one night each year. Fellow Doña Ana Photography Club member Lisa Mandelkorn – who not only photographs flowers beautifully but takes the time to know what they are – has witnessed cereus flowering. 

They're rare. There were only two previously tagged cereus in this “population.” Dave gave us a few minutes to wander around, and before we left there were three. They look about like an old stick someone discarded in the middle of a creosote bush.
Creosote is said to kill other plants; but some cacti like to grow beneath creosote. I'm not entirely sure whether the creosote as plant-murderer story is a myth or a truth with exceptions. 
We wound our way up into the Canyon, seeing little evidence that it had shared much in the recent rains.

We ate lunch in a cottonwood grove that had been used for centuries. And decorated by centuries of visitors: it boasted both pictographs and petroglyphs. Mescalero Apache elders had identified the pictographs, but weren't too sure what earlier folks had left the petroglyphs.

We saw no great quantity of either; but what we saw were different from what I'd seen elsewhere; and the site's silence and solitude enhanced its appeal. 

Other wonders we ran across included ancient agave roasting pits, some neat cactus, mystery agaves, and a sotol with a wren's golden nest protruding from its golden stalk. In addition, some of our stops to gawk at plants also yielded views of Lake Lucero and the white sands far below us, with black mountains looming in the background.

Our travels also took us to the battlefield where Victorio, determined not to be moved, held off the buffalo riders with a much smaller force.

It wasn't a long walk, but I turned back, guessing my week-old new hip might object to the climb. While Dave regaled the others with tales of tricks, triumph, and treasure, I sat in my truck doing the sudoku and enjoying a light rain.

Soon we reached the fabled Victorio's Peak and turned back, without getting out our shovels.
Within minutes thunderclaps were following the lightning strikes as closely as an NFL defensive back covering a wide-receiver. We abandoned photography and just drove. Fast. 
The dry dirt road quickly became a raging river, making it a race to get to pavement while we still could. The waters were high enough that we got our feet wet -- in the truck. 
A classic end to a New Mexico outing. As we headed for the exit from the Range, an oryx with two young-uns stood by the side of the road watching us curiously, but raced off into the hills after we stopped to return their stares.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News, though without the images.]

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Developments with Subjects of Past Columns

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Unfortunately, that's true of many subjects these Sunday columns have touched on.

I wrote in January that Governor Martinez, like NJ Governor Christie, tended to “maintain a personal vindictiveness that doesn't fade as they move up the political ladder.” And “Mark D'Antonio's presence in her old office is like an itch she can't keep from scratching.”

She continues to illustrate my point. Shortly before Independence Day a visitor remarked to D.A. Mark D'Antonio that D'Antonio's office had a great view of the Field of Dreams. A plan emerged to gather there with their families to watch the fireworks.

One evening soon afterward, Doña Ana County Commissioner Dr. David Garcia got a call at home. “Is this Dr. Garcia?” “Yes.” “Is this Commissioner Garcia?” “Yes.” Finally the woman identified herself as “your Governor.” Guv told Garcia of D'Antonio's party plan. He wondered what she wanted him do do. “Shut it down.” “But it's his office.”

Dr. G. obligingly contacted the County Manager, who issued some edict against booze in county offices. (Did the Guv always keep that office alcohol free?) Also no shooting of fireworks from the county building's roof.

Does it get any pettier than trying to prevent a fireworks-watching-party in her former office? Even if D'Antonio had been planning to serve booze, is this what oughtta be keeping our Guv up at night?

In May I wrote that we pay appallingly inadequate compensation to contract public defenders. Constitutionally, the State owes indigents a defense to criminal charges; but at current rates, a contract lawyer must either short-change his client significantly or work many unpaid hours to give that client a defense remotely equal to what a paying client would receive.

What sparked the column was lawyer Gary Mitchell's motion, filed in several criminal cases, demanding the State put up or shut up: since the Constitution says you gotta pay me to defend the accused, either do so or drop your case against him.

Sounded fair. I called Mr. Mitchell Monday to ask whether any court had yet ruled on such a motion. None had. (Judges rule at their own pace.) “Hopefully, we can get a ruling pretty quick,” Mr. Mitchell said.

In 2013 we questioned the mindless rush to spend a bunch of money putting artificial turf on the Field of Dreams. Proponents claimed you could use it for many events; but you can't – unless you cover it with an expensive wooden platform to protect it from spilled drinks and high heels, etc. Sure enough, first big concert – no one could sit on the field, and many had to be unreasonably far from the stage.

Two columns earlier this year concerned the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District bond election, which failed 500-2,859. That's the result I favored; but I wrote that those of us concerned about soil and water conservation shouldn't just nod off and leave this group to spend their time opposing conservation and preservation measures, most of which have little to do with their charge. Concern about local flooding deserves serious attention.

Mea culpa. I just haven't taken the time I'd intended on this. But in writing this column I saw the group was to meet Thursday, August 14, and I resolved to attend.
Quite recently, I wrote of rattlesnakes. A few days later, taking care of a neighbor's place, the wife reached for something near a Russian Sage. Curled under the bush lay a rattler. He lazily stuck out his tongue at her. She thanked him for his serenity and gave him a wide berth thereafter.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 17 August.]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Was School Too Hasty in Firing Jesus Solis

Last week's column discussed the Jesus Solis case, in which a popular teacher was accused of touching children sexually and was indicted on 52 felony counts. When those counts evaporated, he essentially pled guilty to hugging kids.

Police and prosecutors eventually reached the right result. No sex crime.
Meanwhile, Solis was fired by the school board.

School board members are non-lawyers. Some were teachers. They want to do the right thing.

Solis's termination hearing was run largely by their legal counsel, who also drew up the notice of firing. It's not illegal for him to perform dual roles; but was it wise? He wasn't required to follow the rules of evidence, and he didn't.

So what was the testimony?

No child testified Solis did anything sexual. No one testified to seeing him do such a thing.
(Superintendent Stan Rounds, who had a second school-hired lawyer as prosecutor, probably could have brought in the little girl or girls allegedly involved. He didn't. Solis's lawyer had apparently made a “gentleman's agreement” with the D.A. not to subpoena the girls without the D.A.'s permission, and he was having trouble reaching the D.A. The school's lawyers refused to give him more time. Months after the alleged event, what was the sudden urgency? Could it have been that the school's lawyers feared the charges would be exposed as hokum? When prosecutors, looking to convict Solis, questioned the first girl and two others who initially supported her, there was nothing there!)

School principal and counselor testified that one day as they finished questioning a girl about alleged lesbian activities or improper conversations on the subject, and the girl knew she was in trouble, she suddenly, out of nowhere, claimed that Mr. Solis, her teacher the previous year, had touched her inappropriately.

Principal and counselor testified they did not particularly believe or disbelieve the alleged victim.

Two teachers who'd taught the girl testified she had a bigger problem with lying than most kids. Witnesses said two other girls felt so strongly that the alleged victim was lying that they went to the principal.

Both sides agreed that at least two dozen witnesses would have testified in favor of Solis.

The prosecution had the burden of proof (though just a preponderance of evidence, not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard). So what did the prosecution present?

Rounds and an HR guy testified they believed the little girl. Neither man had talked to her.
Rounds testified that if the girl recanted, he'd still fire Solis.
Rounds waffled about whether he'd consulted the principal and what she'd said. He testified that the principal's opinion often contributed to such a decision, and he implied that this principal had supported firing Solis. In fact, she didn't, as she testified under oath.

Rounds testified he acted once Solis got indicted. (An indictment describes the charges but isn't actual evidence. Guilt or innocence gets determined in the criminal proceedings that follow the indictment.)

Rounds and the school's lawyer had padded the termination letter with a bunch of other charges that sound minor. Rounds testified these charges alone were enough to fire Solis. But if that's true, why didn't Rounds do it months ago, and save us some money?

The evidence against Solis was hearsay. Unconvincing hearsay, in my view. The school declined to comment, given an imminent appeal and possible litigation.

There's a lot the board didn't hear in the hearing. Here's hoping the board members take a more active role in deciding the appeal. Rubber-stamping a questionable decision could prove costly.

Mr. Solis, his students, and the taxpayers deserve a fair and reasoned decision.
[The column above -- Part II of II -- appeared today, Sunday, 10 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  Part  I, which ran in the paper a week ago sub nom A Conscientious Teacher Put Through Hell, is available at A Sad Story - Part I or by just paging down past these italicized comments below.]
[I mention in the column that the school district authorities declined to talk to me, because Mr. Solis's appeal hearing is coming up soon and because there could also be litigation of some sort.  I mention that to explain why the school's point-of-view isn't set forth in the column, and certainly not to criticize that silenceWith what I've had available, I've tried to write a fair and accurate account -- and, obviously, I think I've managed that.]
[I can only reiterate that the deeper problem -- how to ensure that we give a huge and empathetic ear to the least hint of sexual molestation of kids while avoiding unnecessarily ruining lives of beloved teachers or other adults who've done nothing of that sort -- remains important, subtle, and challenging.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Sad Story -- Part I

This is a sad story that needs to be told.

One victim is a good and conscientious teacher named Jesus Solis.

I'm not sure there's a villain.

I won't discuss all the details, or name other names. But one day a troubled young girl was called to the principal's office and questioned about talking in the girls' room about stuff schools don't want 10 or 11 year-olds talking about. She knew she was in hot water. After the principal finished questioning her, the girl suddenly blurted out a claim that a teacher had touched her sexually. As best I can tell, he hadn't. As best the District Attorney's Office could tell, he hadn't. But she told her story, and two other girls initially went along with it.

The story that made the news was that Mr. Solis was charged with 52 felony counts. There was a photograph (probably taken after a night in jail wondering whether anyone would believe he hadn't done it) in which Mr. Solis looks like someone who would do any bad thing the newspaper said he did.

But he hadn't touched the girl sexually, according to the weight of the evidence. The school prejudged him guilty. The police investigated, and eventually he was indicted; but as the police and the DA investigated further, the case unraveled. The girls contradicted themselves, recanted, or changed their stories. There was also strong evidence undermining the first girl's credibility.

Ultimately the DA dismissed all the felonies. Mr. Solis pled guilty to hugging kids. A misdemeanor. Nothing sexual. But hugs that were perhaps unwanted. (I get those, not being a huggy kind of guy, but it's in the culture now; and it was in the culture Mr. Solis grew up in.) The DA was agreeable to a suspended sentence for the hugging.

Meanwhile, although some people who should have known better joined the bandwagon, a lot of teachers, parents, and students stood up for Mr. Solis. He is reportedly a popular and dedicated teacher.

Why do I mention all this? Because the guy whose picture we saw in the paper and whom we each casually judged seems to be a pretty good guy, and we have put him through hell. We the citizens whose School Board failed us and him. We the citizens who judged him based on a headline and a bad photograph. We the audience of news media that saw in this a titillating tale.

I doubt the girl understood what she put Mr. Solis through. She appears to have had a bit of a crush on him, and a lot of confusion about her sexuality. On the day she told her story to the principal, she smiled at Mr. Solis and repeatedly visited his classroom on flimsy excuses. She liked him.

The girl is clearly a victim: of a culture dominated by sexual messaging; perhaps of some predatory teen or adult; and of school administrators so determined to CYA that they ignored the fact that she'd made other questionable statements and allegations. Once she was closely questioned, her factual statements didn't even really amount to much.

The point here is not the girl, who probably deserves sympathy and help. It's not her parents, who supported her vigorously even as her account shrank and lost credibility. (Friends say that's because they love her; others hint that the parents thought a lawsuit against the school could turn their finances around.)

The point is to remind ourselves not to rush to judgment, but allow for what we don't know, and to use this incident to assess how our public institutions performed in a tough situation.

[This column appeared Sunday, 3 August, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, under theheadline "Good and Conscientious Teacher Put through Hell by Sex Allegations."]
[As you can imagine, this was a hard column to write.  Two sides [at least!] to the story, and everyone quite convinced that his or her view is The Truth.  Truth is a weird-shaped beast, actually -- nearly as rare as the unicorn, and not always as appealing.  This ain't the first time I've sat in rooms with people on consecutive days hearing diametrically opposed accounts, each delivered passionately and persuasively.  Neither Jesus Solis nor the girl's father would have enjoyed listening to everything I heard about him.  Solis wasn't guilty of molesting kids and got a raw deal here, but that doesn't make Jesus Solis into Jesus Christ.  At the same time, most everyone who looked into this came away believing: that the girl had a reputation for telling stories (a habit you'd figure her parents would have noticed) and that part of the parents' motivation in pushing this was financial.
I spent a lot of time looking into this matter, and have tried to write about a delicate subject fairly and accurately, including enough information for the column to make sense but without adding a bunch of information that would add to anyone's embarrassment.]
[In this extra space, I'll address two questions:
1. Is the DA "soft on criminals?"  Well, I don't think so.  I think the D.A., like most lawyers, wants to win.  Here, Solis was the ideal guy to run right over, an alleged sex offender and thus inherently unpopular in the community.  This would have been an ideal case for the D.A. to use to answer that "soft on criminals" allegation, leveled by political enemies and probably also by people, including victims, who don't fully understand the calculations that necessarily to into decisions on what to charge and which cases to settle at what price.   Sure, people who worked with Solis and kids he taught mostly liked him a lot, but by definition he didn't have any powerful political constituency behind him.  Great case, except for one thing: the facts, as developed by investigators who were not on Solis's side, simply didn't add up to a case with much chance of winning.
By the way, the girl's father says he the D.A. didn't do his job.  He says the case should have been taken to trial.  He has created a website,, where you can add your name to his petition on the subject.    I definitely don't share his view, but some readers may.
2. Then did the police screw up?  For the most part, I think not.  Just because a criminal case settles doesn't mean the police were wrong in bringing it.  For one thing, if you have any doubt at all, how do you not want to see further investigation, with advocates for both sides, of a credible allegation of this sort?
I didn't see this case as the investigating detective saw it, or listen as he did to what the witnesses were actually saying and how they were saying it.  I suspect he was also getting some pressure from the parents. Could the truth have been ascertained earlier, sparing the participants -- particularly Solis -- further angst?  I'm reluctant to judge.
Nearly 40 years ago I was a long-haired motorcycle bum who got hired as the Las Cruces Bureau Chief for the El Paso Times.  Once I was riding along with one of the city's first female police officers, to do a feature story on her. We'd picked up a male officer who needed a ride back to his car.  A call came over the radio of a burglary in progress in a residential neighborhood.  Because the male officer happened to be with us, she could take the call.  She did.  We arrived at a dark house in a quiet neighborhood.  I quickly realized that I'd better stay damned close to the two officers, because any back-up officers would instantly assume the long-haired guy was the "perpetrator."   The officers knocked on the door.  No answer.  We went in, and through the living room, and down a dark hallway.   At the far end, on the left, a door opened.  The female officer, in front, moved quickly from the hallway into a vacant room.  I, in the rear, quickly moved from the hallway into a vacant room.  The officer in the middle had no convenient exit, so he crouched and pointed his gun and shouted "Freeze! Police! at the individual who emerged from the opened door.  That individual, a tall, slender Hispanic gentleman, very sleepy, was in fact a friend of the owners whom the owners had forgotten to mention to the neighbors.  Fortunately, his first reaction was to slowly raise his hands as ordered.  But afterward, the officer and I talked.  He was shaking, because he knew how close he'd come to shooting the guy -- or at least, that if the sleepy citizen had made some sudden move, out of fear and confusion, he'd probably have shot him; and for me -- a young fellow with a radical background and quite varied experiences of police officers -- it was a good lesson.  Had the other fellow made some quick and ambiguous motion, and had there been a shooting, I could not have faulted the officer; but I knew that had I not been there, but merely read about the shooting, I might easily have condemned the shooting of an unarmed citizen.] 
[At any rate, what I hope to do in next week's column is to discuss briefly how our institutions -- law enforcement, public prosecutor, and school administration -- performed in this case.]

[I don't usually bother with stuff like this, but someone called "Sound Off" (which, for those from other places, is a feature in the local newspaper in which folks can call in and have their comments, questions, insults, and what-not printed in the paper) and we saw on Thursday this:
"GOODMAN COLUMN> Peter Goodman routinely offers innuendo, rumor, and lazy fact gathering, then draws wild conclusions.  In his latest instance of reckless commentary, he blames the school board and administrators for a person's arrest and indictment as though they, and not police and a grand jury, perform those functions."
One reason I don't usually answer these is my feeling that if someone does you the courtesy of reading what you write, s/he deserves a little respect in return.  However, it's not clear that this person read much more than the headline.  
I'm open to plenty of criticisms.  But how do you accuse me of "lazy fact-gathering"  and relying on "rumors" when I took the time to interview quite a few people and even read actual evidence, which I suspect most folks have not?   How do you get the idea I'm blaming the school board for an indictment when I say no such thing and discuss what the police and prosecutors did?  The school has certain legal obligations when there are allegations of child molestation and the like.  I think that requirement is right, although it can lead to some unfair situations.  I certainly can't fault the school for complying with the law.  Of course you want to separate the alleged wrong-doer from the kids forthwith.  I have serious questions about the school's conduct, and I'll ask them; but for the moment the school has declined to discuss the matter with me because it's still the subject of an administrative appeal within the school system and could be the subject of litigation.  (I'm not criticizing their refusal, just noting it.)
It's possible that the indictment and the withdrawal of all felony counts were each proper exercise of judgment at the time each occurred.  That's sort of how the police and prosecutors see it; the girl's father has made clear he doesn't agree with dropping the sex charges; the teacher might reasonably feel that interviewers should have gotten to what appears to be the truth somewhat sooner, or delayed an indictment.  I reserve judgment.]
[On the other hand, the reader/complainer has this disadvantage: s/he probably hasn't investigated the matter so fully, and although I've tried to be clear and fair, (1) it ain't as if I know everything there is to know either, (2) some of what folks have shared with me was conditioned on my not attributing it to the person, and (3) I resisted including several additional bits of material that, while they were accurate and (in my view) would have made the case clearer, might have unnecessary embarrassed the young girl or her family.]  

As you'll read in my next column, I do question the school board's action in firing the guy; but even so, I resist jumping to conclusions: I've seen a lot of evidence, but not everything; and