The dean of Atlanta’s investigative reporters delivered a clean, solid hit to an odd, costly practice by the Forsyth County Tax Commissioner. It seems commissioner Matthew Ledbetter habitually buys meals for his staff, spending taxpayer dollars to do so. It was so conspicuous that somebody finally tipped WSB’s Richard Belcher, who delivered a report on it last week.
Belcher’s work was a lovely example of why it’s important to keep politicians from weakening Georgia’s Open Records Act. The evidence was readily available in the Tax Commissioner’s credit card receipts. Belcher found that he’d billed taxpayers for more than $14,000 worth of chow, much of it the cuisine of a “burgers and chicken wings kind of place” in Cumming called Roosters.
The commissioner didn’t dispute the expenditure. In a statement, he defended the practice. Apparently morale is quite high in the tax commissioner’s office, and “customer service” is exemplary. Although it was a “gotcha” type story, Belcher’s treatment was evenhanded. It gave viewers plenty of leeway to make up their own minds about whether the commissioner had misused his expense account.
WSB also delivered a helpful, informative piece warning consumers about off-brand flat-panel TV sets. Tom Regan interviewed a repair shop guy who said “you can find Jimmy Hoffa’s body before you can find parts” needed to fix certain brands of flat-panel sets. The $500 – 1100 sets, Regan reported, are considered “disposable,” where the repairs are more expensive that a new set.
Our only complaint: WSB’s insistence on calling this an “investigation.” It was solid, useful consumer reporting. But calling Regan’s story “investigative” cheapens a term rightfully applied to pieces like the one done by Belcher.