Wick Communications

Making positive change

In Ideas on 17 Dec 2015 at 3:56 pm


The story in the Wahpeton Daily News begins like this:

Last May, a fire destroyed several parking garages at the Asbury Apartments complex, located at 1340 and 1330 12th St. N in Wahpeton.

Embers from the fire jumped to adjacent buildings and although quickly extinguished, they left behind visible damage. This damage can still be seen on at least one parking lot adjacent to the back entrance of an Asbury building. Although advised not to, residents still use the entrance.

Jared Hoechst has been manager of Asbury Apartments for approximately nine months. He said the entrance’s door is slated to be replaced, but couldn’t give a date. The sign asking residents not to use the door was placed to prevent further damage. This became a greater concern when pipes burst in a basement laundry room because of exposure to the cold air. 

“This had thoroughly soaked the entire area, so for air flow and to allow it to dry, there’s an opening in the laundry room ceiling,” Hoechst said. “It’s been like this for a week and a half.”

Are you hooked? From there, writer Frank Stanko introduces us to the 87-year-old absentee landlord who represents the problematic tip of an iceberg of troubles with code violations among rental properties in the city. There are great quotes from city officials and residents. And the landowner is handled with sensitivity as well.

This is a home run. So why don’t we all do more of it?

As with so many such stories, this one began with great regular beat reporting. Frank says he attended a Wahpeton Public Works and Safety meeting and heard one committee member talking about the dilapidated building she saw on a recent bicycle ride through the town. Frank took it from there.

Good reporters don’t roll something like this, something with a real human component, into a larger council story. They pull it out and make the extra calls necessary to do what we see here.

Stories like this invariably require getting your butt out of your seat. Frank tells us about the broken glass and the way neighbors nonetheless take care of each other — because he made the effort to actually see it.

And they require difficult calls to people who don’t want to talk. Frank runs down the elderly owner of the property who hints he might have to close the place entirely if he gets any bad publicity. That’s an implied threat, and Frank acknowledged it in print, but didn’t let it stop him.

“We weren’t setting out to crucify anyone, but with the hope that there would be an effort to make change,” Frank told me. And it worked. He says the owner fixed the faulty door and some other things after the story came out.

Particularly in the winter, perhaps particularly in the holiday season, stories like this are necessary. We have to look after folks who don’t have the power to effectively fight for their own rights.

Thanks, Frank. Happy holidays.





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