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Sheriff's newsletter aims to inform public
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Sheriff Troy Hale wants his constituents to know how he'll spend the $2.4 million budgeted for his department in the coming year.
He is telling them all about it in The New Pioneer, a privately funded quarterly newsletter distributed to 9,000 Baker County homes.
Hale said he developed the idea for the newsletter during his campaign for election as sheriff. He took office in January 2001 after defeating Terry Speelman in the November 2000 election.
"It all came about as a way to communicate what we do and what we're about to the citizens of Baker County," he said.
"I knew there would be a lot of changes and I decided a newsletter would probably be the best way to go," he said.
But once in office, he could see that the department had other funding priorities.
That's why he decided to seek private donations to pay for the project, he says. He asked Chuck Sellier, a Baker City businessman, author and film producer, if he would be interested in funding the expense. Sellier and his wife, Julie Magnuson, and their companies, Grizzly Adams Productions, Flexible Mining Co. and Oregon Trail Bullet, contributed about $35,000 to Hale's election campaign.
"I went to Chuck and said, Hey, can you take care of this for me?' and he said, Yeah.'"
Under the agreement, Hale oversees the content and Sellier pays for all of the costs involved. The writing, editing and layout is done mostly by Dean Brickey of Brickey Publishing Co., who has a separate contract with Sellier, Hale said.
Sellier declined to comment personally on his funding of the newsletter. He did, however, authorize his attorney Martin Leuenberger to state that his only involvement is financial.
"He gives the grant and whatever is published in there is out of his hands," Leuenberger said.
The newsletter costs about 50 cents per issue to produce, according to Hale. That totals about $4,500 per quarter or $18,000 per year. Those costs include all production and distribution expenses, Hale said. The 12-page newsletter, which includes color photographs and graphics, is printed at The Observer printing plant in La Grande, which also prints the Baker City Herald.
"For $2 a year we can four times a year come into your house and tell you how we're spending $2.4 million," Hale said. "Most people spend more than that for their first cup of coffee in the morning."
Newsletter focuses on services
According to the sheriff, the process for producing the newsletter begins with brainstorming sessions with employees and Brickey to develop story ideas. From there Brickey conducts interviews with the various employees involved and takes photographs needed to explain and illustrate each topic. Hale approves the final product to ensure accuracy of the content.
The cover features the department's new logo and a message "From the Sheriff's Desk." Information about new programs, policies and personnel are described throughout the publication. Topics have ranged from boaters safety to the department's new uniforms and crime prevention tips.
"We wanted to make people aware of all the people who work here, what they go through and how much of a commitment it really is," Hale said.
The sheriff's department employs 35 people, including road deputies, corrections officers, dispatchers and the front office staff, Hale said.
"Nobody really knew what happened in this building what services we have available and how to access services and how we work with other agencies in the community," he said.
By providing county residents with information, he hopes to help them better understand why the sheriff's department constitutes the largest segment of the county's $7.8 million general fund budget.
He's had a few questions from people who want to know who's paying the bill for the newsletter, he said. Most have been happy to learn that it requires no county funds to produce.
"People appreciate that we have found an alternative way to pay for it rather than using their tax dollars," he said.
Some citizens voice criticism
Gary Dielman, a former Baker City councilor who was recalled in December, has voiced his disapproval of Sellier's funding of the newsletter, Hale noted.
Sellier and Magnuson contributed $11,020 to support Dielman's recall. Dielman has questioned Sellier's motives for spending so much money in local politics as well as for funding the newsletter.
But Hale maintains that Sellier's only motivation is to improve the community and the county.
"There are no strings attached," he said. "He isn't about governing the operation of this sheriff's office or anybody. If he believes in somebody's ability to make Baker County a better place then he supports them.
"For Chuck it's about making Baker County the best place it can be," Hale said. "He doesn't ask anything from them other than just to do what's right."
"I think any time you start informing people of what's going on they're going to form a closer attachment to the organization," he said. "It's not such a mystery any more.
"It's all public information," he said of the publication's content. "We're just giving it to them rather than them taking time to research it out."
The newsletter takes a positive approach to the information presented, he added.
In reporting on government issues, newspapers tend to focus more on something that went wrong, he added.
"That's one thing I don't see any of the newspapers doing focusing on positive things," he said.
The New Pioneer also will avoid political issues.
"It's about information," he said. "What we're doing here and how we work with other agencies."