Start the Presses: Serving the readers into the new year

The newspaper business — not to mention the news itself in this town — moves incredibly fast, so much so that I occasionally feel the need to hire chiropractors to treat the whiplash for my long-suffering staff.

The paper moved forward significantly in 2010, both in print and online, and I am very proud of the work we have done.

Last January, we launched our staff blog, The818Now.com, an experiment that continues to impress me with its reach. We launched a redesign of our websites in May, changed to a new design system in June, and added a fourth paper, Brand X, to our portfolio in August.

Though the initial launch of the website was bumpy, the sites are now updated far more frequently, the design is easier to use, and generally everything is far more useful to our readers.

But most importantly, we have affirmed and reaffirmed our commitment to our watchdog role this year, and will continue to fight on your behalf for the release of public information.

Reporter Melanie Hicken, in conjunction with two Los Angeles Times reporters, Jessica Garrison and David Zahniser, have done Glendale a tremendous service by bringing to light issues surrounding an affordable housing development company, Advanced Development & Investment Inc.

The stories, which ran in both the Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Times, detail claims that ADI bilked the city out of millions of dollars in inflated construction costs. If true, this would be particularly galling, as the projects were designed help those with lower income. A reverse Robin Hood, if you will: stealing from the poor — in the form of overpriced and shoddy work — to give to the rich.

More troubling, many of ADI's subcontractors were major contributors to current and former City Council members who signed off on the affordable housing projects. Now, we have no evidence at this point of any quid pro quo, but if it is there, we will seek it out and find it.

We are also currently ensconced in two separate fights for public information, one in Burbank and the other in Glendale. In Burbank, we are waiting on an official response for our request for records related to "pay for performance" bonuses provided to more than 50% of eligible Burbank city employees. The city has promised us an answer by Jan. 7.

We will also be filing a separate request for information on familial relationships within Burbank city departments. We believe the city has that information, as its official application form asks for the name and department of any relatives an applicant currently employed by Burbank. Our informal request for the information was denied, but I'm curious to know the legal reasoning behind that.

In Glendale, we are currently working on the mysterious case of Steven G. Wagg, the Glendale Community College police chief who was placed on leave Dec. 15. Officials have so far declined to tell us whether Nidal Kobaissi, a captain in the department, has also been placed on leave. However, the 13-member department is now being headed on an interim basis by a rank-and-file officer, Erin Kurasz.

We have asked the college to provide us with information regarding the employment history and training records of Wagg and Kobaissi — their resumes, basically. The college has refused our request, saying that the release of such information would be an "unwarranted invasion of privacy."

A resume? I suppose that means that the business-networking website LinkedIn is a massive trove of privacy violations. In any event, we're going to continue pressing for the release of this information as well.

I suppose this begs the question as to why we want it. We are looking to confirm that Wagg and Kobaissi had the appropriate levels of training for the positions they hold. It seems important for safety and security reasons that the public be able to check that someone of such authority is authorized to hold that position.

It is vitally important that this newspaper serve as a check on governmental actions and governmental power. Journalists, of course, have no special powers. Everyone has the right to see the documents we're requesting. We just tend to ask for the information on a more regular basis than other people.

Look for these stories in 2011. It's going to be an incredible year.

DAN EVANS is the editor. Reach him at dan.evans@latimes.com.

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