Daily Archives: October 23, 2008

On the clock

WGCL’s ongoing effort to root out waste in Atlanta’s city government is admirable.  Its most recent installment hits the target but misses the bulls-eye.   And that’s a vast improvement over its last effort, which completely missed and was a bit of an embarrassment.

This time, investigative reporter Wendy Saltzman crunched some payroll numbers and found some eye-opening data:  A handful of city employees had doubled and tripled their salaries by working overtime. Saltzman showed the numbers to a couple of city council members who were shocked, shocked that the city was paying so much overtime while in the throes of a budget crisis.  So far, so good.

Saltzman also tracked down the department head whose agency paid the most overtime, a man who had spent months ignoring WGCL’s requests for an interview.  Watershed Management director Rob Hunter had a ready answer:  One of his employees abruptly left, and another employee essentially worked two jobs.   But Saltzman found that the employee’s overtime began months before the departure of his co-worker.  Good stuff.

Then the story sputters a bit.  Saltzman produced man-on-the-street interviews with garden-variety residents who expressed the same kind of shock as the council members.  The encounters probably went something like this:

Saltzman:  Ma’am, I’m with CBS-46.  May I talk with you for a moment?

Person on the street:  What?  Me?  What’d I do?

Saltzman:  Nothing.  What if I told you that some Atlanta city workers were doubling or tripling their regular salaries by working overtime?

POTS:  Huh?  What?

Saltzman:  You know, the city is laying off workers and closing fire stations.  But they’re paying all this overtime to city workers.

POTS:  That doesn’t sound right.  Seems like the city needs to get its act together and fix that.

Saltzman:  Want to say that on camera?

The interviews added nothing because the interviewees had no real knowledge about the situation or city government.  If Saltzman had asked the head of an NPU or a neighborhood association, it would have had more credibility.  Likewise, a Human Resources expert at a local university might have shed light on it.

But had she done that, they probably would have asked a question that WGCL’s investigation doesn’t ask:  Is the city really paying a water management supervisor only $33,000 a year to do his job?  And a person below him, only $25,000?  The overtime earnings of these folks — excessive or not —  only elevate them to a living wage.

It’s also worth noting that when Saltzman listed the departments paying the most overtime, the Sanitation department wasn’t among them.  Saltzman’s previous investigative miscue focused on Sanitation.  Time to move on.

Saltzman is on the right track, digging up whistleblowers and doing records-based investigative reporting.  This story, though imperfect, is a solid step in the right direction for WGCL.

Comedian wanted

Mark Hyman, WAGA

Mark Hyman, WAGA

Rodney Ho’s AJC blog reports WAGA is re-assigning its so-called Road Warrior.  Mark Hyman is returning to daytime general assignment reporting.  Ho says WAGA hasn’t decided how to replace him and is considering rotating reporters through the shift, a notion that probably chills the bones of some of the staff there now.

The Road Warrior is a worthwhile effort to take the hours-long Good Day Atlanta away from the tedium of the studio.  The problem is that it hasn’t worked well.  Hyman’s predecessor, Brett Martin, cultivated an image as an on-air fool.  It seemed to play well with the audience but made folks cringe at the TV station.  Hyman is a good reporter and is a genuinely funny guy.  But he isn’t a truly natural TV performer.

Sarah Parker, WGCL

Sarah Parker, WGCL

It isn’t just Hyman’s fault.  Too often, the segment finds itself at restaurants that have opened early just to accommodate WAGA. The Road Warrior needs a full-time producer to figure a way out of the restrictions that naturally occur at that hour.

Few have noticed, but WGCL has installed Sarah Parker as its version of the Road Warrior on Better Mornings Atlanta.  Parker may help that program expand its viewership beyond friends and family of the on-air talent.  She’s at ease, a bit wry and bubbly when necessary.  Like Hyman, she too often finds herself at restaurants.

Matt "Lucky" Yates

We'll have what he's drinking: Matt "Lucky" Yates

The problem with both Hyman and Parker is that they’re TV reporters.  WAGA needs to realize that this isn’t a reporter gig.  They need to hire a comedian. somebody who is smart and knows Atlanta and has some varied experiences as a performer.  A quick wit is essential.  A slightly subversive streak would be a plus.

WAGA would be lucky to get this guy.