You probably didn’t see what may be the most relevant TV investigative report of 2008. It aired this week on WGCL, showing that the city of Atlanta’s money woes are, in part, due to its own failure to collect money owed to the city. Wendy Saltzman reported that the city is owed more than $30 million in past due water bills. And on the day the piece aired, the city’s water department had to lay off nearly 100 employees due to the city’s ongoing budget crisis.
Saltzman talked with some of the biggest alleged deadbeats. The biggest of all was Chastain Park Amphitheater, with a past due bill of $109,000 and change. By starting her piece with that eye-opener, Saltzman drew the viewer into a story that threatened to be dry and statistical. A couple of semi-confrontational moments ensued with other alleged deadbeats. Then she dropped another unexpected bombshell: The biggest deadbeat is the City of Atlanta, which is apparently rife with agencies that ignore bills from the city’s water department.
Saltzman’s story was further complicated by the fact that Mayor Shirley Franklin decided to call a news conference on the issue the day WGCL’s story was scheduled to air. Franklin vowed to call the top 25 deadbeat herself and request payment. She also contradicted herself during the newser about the city’s failure to pay itself. “It doesn’t matter what the number is,” Franklin said at the podium. “But it does!” Saltzman is heard saying emphatically from the audience. “It matters what the number is,” Franklin agrees, almost too readily.
The story certainly lacks the salacious flavor of some investigative stories delivered on TV in Atlanta since October (and we’ve only viewed a fraction of them). But we’re gonna stick our necks out and say that this series is more relevant than any of them — because of the jobs and services lost by the city of Atlanta’s budget crisis, and the fact that so much money is outstanding. All that affects real people more than NeNe’s duplicity or Gena Evans’ salacious e-mails. WGCL’s investigative unit is getting better by the day. Grade: A-