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Friday, May 6, 2016

Wait until you hear this one...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Now when the rumor comes to your town, It grows, it grows -- Where it started no one knows.

So go the lyrics that start the song, "The Rumor," by The Band.

No matter where you live, its a fact that people like to talk and gossip, and pass on things they've heard as the gospel truth -- true or not.

As a news reporter who comes into contact with a lot of people, I get a lot of great "news tips." But I learned long ago to thoroughly check all tips out before reporting it, or even passing it on to someone else in a private conversation.

Last winter, after some rural churches and cemeteries in the Viola area were senselessly vandalized, people were understandably frustrated when no one was arrested for the crimes. Several people told me they knew who one of the culprits was, but said they would never be arrested because they came from a prominent family.

Law enforcement investigators told me the report was not true but, as time went on, I wondered if something was being covered up, and whether I should somehow try to report the allegation I had heard from several people.

I'm glad I resisted. When arrests finally were made, the suspects were three youth from the West Plains area, who had no known ties to the area.

The latest rumor to cross my path appeared to have a lot of truth to it because so many people were telling the same story, with a few variations.

The story was, county officials, looking for ways to prop up their sagging general fund, had discovered several Certificates of Deposit they didn't know existed. The discovery of $500,000 would put the county back on solid financial footing. No, wait. The CDs totaled more like a million dollars. No -- there is more than a million in those accounts, went the story I kept hearing.

The day I first heard the rumor, I had seen the County Judge, Treasurer and Clerk meeting to discuss how to deal with the general fund shortfall, and whether emergency action was needed.

While a special Quorum Court meeting had tentatively been scheduled, they didn't behave like it would be needed. Hummm, did that mean they HAD "found" some money?

But how could hundreds of thousands of dollars in CDs be "forgotten," since the state audits every year, and all assets must be disclosed? Isn't hiding or forgetting to report assets like CDs a serious matter?

Since I was leaving town for a visit with family in Florida, seeking answers to those questions had to wait until I returned.

In questioning county officials several days later, I was told the county did have two CDs totalling about $289,000 -- but they've always been on the books, and they were set up, years ago, in such a way that they can't be cashed in and placed in the general fund to meet expenses.

In reality, county officials have identified about $40,000 in state funds that can go into the general fund, and additional state money that can be used to pay salaries the next month or two.

Instead of a half-million or million dollar windfall of "found money" to magically solve our financial problems, the county will continue to limp along -- hoping to stay on its feet until property tax revenue rolls in this fall.

How did the widely circulated rumor get started? Maybe someone who heard about the CDs assumed they could be cashed in. He or she told one person, who told another person, who told another person, who told...and misinformation took on a life of its own.

So much for my big scoop -- County Finds Money in Mattress -- Financial Problems Solved!!!

Another reminder to take those rumors, no matter how good they sound, with a grain of salt.

Or, as The Band puts it: Some of your neighbors will invite it right in, Maybe its a lie, Maybe its a sin.

They'll repeat the rumor again.