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Monday, September 17, 2012

On the day a woman stormed my office and called me an idiot


Unfortunately, my least favorite moment of journalism happened during the same period of my investigative series on public salaries.
In that same week, I did a comparison of the rank-and-file police officers assigned to Kuna and found that Kuna’s police officers were making $61,000 to $63,000 per year, compared with $35,000 to $62,000 in other police agencies around the Treasure Valley and state. Police officers in my new favorite city, Rexburg, were making $30,800 to $45,800.
I, myself, did not come right out and say the salaries were too high, and I didn’t have anyone else quoted in my story saying that the salaries were too high. My goal was merely to provide the information and let people decide for themselves. However, it was patently obvious that Kuna’s salaries were on par and higher with other cities that were two, three, even four times the size of Kuna with much higher crime rates and arguably more dangerous crimes.
On the day that the story came out, Nicola and I were in the office working away when a woman entered our office. She picked up a copy of the paper that was on our front counter and asked Nicola, “Is the person who’s responsible for this in the office?”
That would be me. I came out of my cubicle and smiled a greeting.
“Are you the one who put the salaries of police officers in the newspaper?” she asked, now becoming clear to me that she was angry.
“Yes.”
“Are you aware that a police officer was shot in the head last night and is now clinging to life right now?”
“Yes,” I replied. Unfortunately, a police officer in Nampa had been shot in the head the previous night. It was clear that this woman was about to make the argument we shouldn’t question how much police officers make because they have a dangerous job. Had this woman been reasonable, though, I might have had the chance to make the point that the police officer in Nampa who was shot in the head probably made a lot less than an officer in Kuna, which hadn’t had a shooting in years. We never got to have a conversation, though.
“So what gives you the right to say whether a police officer makes too much?”
“My story doesn’t say whether police officers make too much or too little. It just tells people how much police officers —”
“Are you an idiot?” she interrupted me.
I didn’t say anything. I just stood there with my mouth open.
“Are you a freakin’ idiot?”
“Get out,” I said finally and pointed to the door.
She tried to say something again, but now I was mad. “Get out of my office right now. Get out,” I said now in a louder voice, pointing again.
It was now her turn to look stunned.
“Thank you for coming in. I’ve got work to do,” I said and turned around and went back into my cubicle to work.
After a couple of moments of silence, she spoke up again.
“Look, I’m not saying that what you wrote is wrong, but don’t you think —”
I got up again, bordering on furious.
“Lady, I’m not having a conversation with you. You come into my office and call me an idiot? I’m not going to have a debate with you. Now get out of my office.”
I went back into my cubicle, and I heard her mumble something as she stormed out of the office.
Nicola and I looked at each other in a shared feeling of disbelief and jangled nerves.
And then the door opened again, and the woman peeked in and said, “How would you feel if someone shot you in the head?” and then took off just as quickly.
Nicola got up and pulled the shades down and locked the door. We were closed for the day.
The incident for sure rattled us, and we spent a few days of looking over our shoulders and peering out the window to see if our crazy woman was coming back.

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