TO THE EDITOR:

I read the letters to the editor from college students Welch and McMurray in the Jan. 7 Commonwealth Press ... To call Mr. Lyke’s editorial a “gross misuse of published media” demonstrates real ignorance of the media. Had Mr. McMurray consulted a dictionary, he would have read that “muckraking” means exposing of government to the public, including those who would be in government.

... As someone who has worked in the news media for more than 20 years, I would have been extremely disappointed in the Commonwealth Press had it not reported the past and pending criminal record of a candidate for Ripon’s highest elective office. ... I don’t know what the law is in Minnesota or Illinois, but in Wisconsin criminal records are public records. And if you decide to run for office, wherever you live, you are a public figure, period.

As a 10-year Ripon resident, homeowner and property taxpayer, I believe it is absolutely the public’s right to know, and thus the Commonwealth Press’ responsibility to provide, pertinent information about candidates for elective office, whether or not those candidates might find that information embarrassing.

The mayor is expected to not only uphold the law, but to promote the public’s upholding of the law by advocacy and example. The incidents the Commonwealth Press reported on and editorialized upon (such as not paying your fines) call into question the candidate’s character and judgment. ...

“Why spend the time criticizing an individual for their nonviolent and furthermore regrettable actions when there could be mature, responsible reporting focused on the issues?” Mr. McMurray asks. Independent of the fact that the first half of his question and the second half of his question are not mutually exclusive concepts, that question makes one wonder if Mr. McMurray believes some laws should be obeyed and some need not be.

Underage drinking is a violation of the law, whether you like it or not, and whether you believe the drinking age is at an appropriate age. ... Making a phony 911 call is tantamount to setting off a false fire alarm, which is a felony in some areas. The thought of a college student calling a false fire alarm to 911 during a blizzard as his complaint about college residential policies calls into question that student’s maturity, judgment and morals, which is neither external nor arbitrary.

Moreover, in the case of Mr. Custer, some of his alleged experiences in the legal system occurred after he announced he was running for mayor. A couple of underage drinking tickets could be chalked up to youthful poor judgment, but not once you become a candidate for office.

The mayor of Ripon is responsible for millions of our tax dollars. The mayor is also the only city elected official who, unlike aldermen, is elected by all the city’s voters. If the Commonwealth Press didn’t inform its readers of who and what they were voting for, then the Commonwealth Press would deservedly sell neither newspapers nor advertising. ...

Perhaps when Ms. Welch and Mr. McMurray purchase homes and raise families, they will discover why that’s important. Hopefully for their sake, they will live somewhere where the local newspaper is doing the job its readers expect it to do.

— Steve Prestegard

938 Newbury St.

Note: Steve Prestegard is the editor of Marketplace Magazine

Read the full letter in the Jan. 14, 2010 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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