Newsletter: August 21, 2013

Dear friends of inewsource,

Our newsletter is back after two weeks of radio silence, while we encouraged staff members to take time off and finished the latest chapter in our rolling investigation on Mello-Roos taxes. The story has taken some significant twists. If you missed it on radio and television Monday, you’ll find details below with links to the full story. There is much more to come!

I’m eager to introduce you to the newest member of our staff. He’ll be packing up his car and driving west from Texas this weekend. We’ll share his bio, photo and list of impressive skills next week.

Hint: If you like data, you’ll love Joe!

Thank you for supporting inewsource. Show your enthusiasm for our work. Share this email!

—- Lorie Hearn, Executive Director | loriehearn@inewsource.org

Creative financing?

The Mello-Roos taxation scheme created to allow developers to pass on infrastructure costs to homebuyers has taken some odd turns.

First, our interactive map letting homeowners compare their own Mello-Roos fees with those of their neighbors enabled some owners to figure out they’d been overcharged. A San Diego council member requested an independent audit.

Now Joanne Faryon has revealed that the Poway school district has amassed so much Mello-Roos money — $168 million — that it’s spending it questionably, often outside Mello-Roos districts. Unwittingly, Mello-Roos taxpayers have underwritten expenses ranging from a multimillion-dollar administration building down to lunches, which presumably don’t meet the superintendent’s rule of thumb that whatever you buy with Mello-Roos funds should last at least five years.

But here’s the kicker: In one Mello-Roos district where homeowners have paid thousands of dollars each year to support well-equipped new schools, overcrowding at the local school has forced kindergarteners from 55 families to attend an older school several miles away. At least its bathrooms and exterior have been upgraded — through the generosity of Mello-Roos taxpayers.

Thank you, Columbia Journalism Review

A successful inewsource experiment got favorable mention as “a novel approach” from Deron Lee in Columbia Journalism Review last week in “Four Ways to Make Big investigative Reports Work Better on the Web.” It cited Brad Racino’s two versions of a story about an auditor’s finding of deficiencies in North County Transit District’s contract management: an uncluttered one with very few hyperlinks and another with links to primary documents in nearly every sentence.

Lee also linked to Racino’s report that the heavily linked version got more and longer page-views and called this kind of extensive linking to source material “the best way to substantiate your reporting.”

It’s not easy being transparent

One of our priorities at inewsource is government accountability. Here’s some news on that front worth sharing:

The National Security Agency, which knows so much about so many of us, obviously doesn’t believe that turnabout is fair play.

Its own secrets about how it has violated privacy rules remain closely guarded, as ProPublica pointed out this week in “What NSA Transparency Looks Like.” It’s brief, but if you’re really short on time, just glance at the accompanying document the agency released in response to a Freedom of Information request from the ACLU.

That says it all. With more lines blacked out than revealed, the document sheds very little light on the agency, but its appearance does send a dark message about dwindling privacy, growing secrecy and the ever-challenging fight for transparency.

Truth matters. Help us find it.

Give today.

 

About Lorie Hearn

Lorie Hearn is the founder and executive director of inewsource.

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