A Beaver County Times reporter has been lobbying Commissioner Dan Camp for free courthouse office space for two Times reporters because the newspaper has relocated to Hopewell Township.
Publicly, Times’ reporter Daveen Rae Kurutz briefly broached the subject at a January commissioners’ work session, but remained silent about the issue until last month when Commissioner Sandie Egley discovered a plan to develop a “media room” was possibly in the works.
Kurutz approached Camp again after Wednesday’s public work session to ask about the possibility of having a courthouse office.
Camp told BeaverCountian.com that he informed Kurutz no suitable location has been found for a media room.
But two county employees, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told BeaverCountian.com they were informed that Kurutz would likely be allowed to move into a space after the November election. Camp said that claim is untrue.
Egley broached the subject during a July 17 public work session and referred to a column by Times’ Editor Lisa Micco published on June 23.
“Since the announcement of our impending move to Hopewell Industrial Park, I have received many phone calls and emails from readers and former employees, sharing their memories, historical insights as well as relocation concerns,” Micco wrote.
“Actually, our reporters will work remotely from various locations, including the county seat and courthouse. But more on that at another time.”
Egley asked Kurutz, who was in the audience, what Micco meant.
“I have spoken with Dan (Camp) and (Chief County Solicitor) Garen (Fedeles). The Times had requested if the county would be willing to create a media room that WBVP, the Beaver Countian, KDKA, whomever, could use being that we were no longer going to be located in the county seat,” she said.
“And at the time, and there is still an intent, that there would be two reporters who are regularly at the courthouse, myself and whomever we hire as the courts reporter.
“We’ve been asking if that would be a possibility, with The Times obviously relocating at the end of the month to the complete other side of the county.”
Kurutz said such media rooms exist in other counties, and that she envisions the space being large enough for two desks — she would bring in a chair.
No one had contacted BeaverCountian.com about the possibility of a media room, and a reporter from WBVP was also unaware that such discussions had taken place.
“It is not any of the (Times) news staffs’ choice to be moving to Hopewell whenever the vast majority of our work is in this region of the county,” Kurutz told the board.
“That’s why our (former Bridgewater office) has always worked for us at The Times.”
Egley said any media room would have to be large enough for all news outlets in the region to use.
“However you guys want that to look, as long as I have a place that on some days I can sit at a desk and work, and plug into the Internet, I’m happy,” Kurutz replied.
Egley made clear she was against the creation of an office for the media, believing the courthouse is limited on space already, and that it could create conflicts of interest.
Kurutz became incensed.
“With all due respect Sandie, that would have been really nice for The Times to have been told five months ago when we approached the county about this, because I’ve been asking at least once a month about this.”
Egley expressed surprise to hear that the idea had been the subject of so much discussion.
“You’ve been asking once a month about this?” Egley asked.
“Dan and Garen,” Kurutz replied.
Camp admitted that Kurutz’s assertion was true. “She’s asked me several times and I said we’d continue to look into it.”
Egley suggested that Kurutz and other reporters could work from public spaces in the courthouse, such as the large second-floor rotunda, which has tables and chairs.
“But there’s no food or drink allowed in the rotunda,” Kurutz said.
Egley suggested Kurutz could work from the cafeteria.
“Sandie, with all due respect, you and I also discussed this in your office not long after the State of the County,” Kurutz said after some additional back and forth. “But I apologize if you’ve forgotten about that but …”
Egley appeared stunned.
“No. I believe that you did mention it to me, but it was never something that was posed as a question for me to voice my opinion,” Egley responded.
“You simply mentioned that (you’d like it). … I didn’t know that this … conversation was actually taking legs, is what I am saying. … When I read it in the paper it seemed to me like there was movement, moving forward to get a media room. … I didn’t realize that was taking place.”
Egley said the board never deliberated about the issue.
Commissioners Tony Amadio and Camp did not express opposition to Kurutz’ request, and decided to have the county’s Department of Public Works look for possible locations in the courthouse that could be used to accommodate The Times.
A courthouse office long occupied by Liquid Fuels Manager Tammy Frank was recently vacated after Frank moved to an outside building that houses the Department of Public Works. Egley and Amadio both said they had been unaware that Frank was moving.
“I was (aware),” Camp said. “I might have been the only one. I didn’t think anything of it.”
Camp insisted the move had nothing to do with Kurutz’s request for office space.
Egley told BeaverCountian.com she did not feel it was appropriate to have a reporter who writes about her asking directly for such a big favor.
“It is one of the most serious conflicts of interest that I can think of,” Egley said.
“Putting aside that this is an election year and the newspaper’s endorsements are hanging out there within a month or two, I feel there has to be a separation between a reporter and a government official so that everyone knows the media is being as unbiased as they can be.”