A letter to the editor appears on this page today, signed by Dana Johnson and Mike Cichanowski, both members of the Port Authority. They take exception to an article that was published in the Winona Post on August 7, 2013. In the article, Post reporter Chris Rogers pointed out that a portion of Latsch Island was included in an industrial development district plan for the expansion of the Winona Airport.
After the article ran, there was a general public response against such a plan, and the Port Authority backed down from the proposal, partially. A small portion of Latsch Island remains on the map as part of the industrial district.
Johnson and Cichanowski make several points in their letter that they consider proof that the Post article was “fabricated” — their term. These charges are addressed in an article on page one today. You will find it interesting reading.
However, the statement in the article that Latsch Island was part of land given to the city by John A. Latsch is the only factual error that we are accused of. “Starting with that faulty premise, it appears to us that it became all too easy to slide down the slippery reporting slope of conspiracy as the root cause of including Latsch Island in a new Riverfront Development District boundary description.”
Johnson and Cichanowski perhaps don’t realize how difficult it is for the media to get information from some offices at city hall. I imagine they are able to simply make a phone call to find answers to their questions. It’s a different matter for the Winona Post to get answers.
Some city hall employees are wonderful to work with, and we maintain good relationships with them. Often we, too, can make a simple phone call and get the information we need. Others at city hall will not take our calls nor respond to voice messages. In some cases, we have to file a Minnesota Data Practices Act request in writing, which, if not worded exactly correctly or submitted on the city’s forms, is routinely turned down by some city hall bureaucrats.
Such was the case as we sought to discover when and how the city of Winona came to be in possession of the land that is now Latsch Island. After our story ran, City Planner Mark Moeller, in a conversation with Mr. Rogers on August 8, told him that Latsch Island was not a Latsch gift, and sent us an informal timeline indicating when the city bought portions of the island. We wanted to do a more detailed history of the island’s ownership and zoning, and sent a formal request, which City Clerk Monica Hennessy Mohan turned down as too broad. We had asked to view the deeds, contracts and legal documents pertaining to the transfer of ownership to the city of Latsch, Aghaming, Winnebago islands.
In a phone call on August 13, Hennessy Mohan responded to the request this way:
HM: Why are you quoting that as John Latsch gave Latsch Island to the city. You did not do any fact checking and when you found out that it was not correct, you haven’t corrected it.
Post: To be fair I don’t think that we’re the only ones who thought that it was a Latsch gift. That may be incorrect and we will issue a correction if necessary.
HM: It’s on the front page of the paper and you have it on the front page of the paper. I would expect the things I read in the paper to be fact checked, and obviously you have a different standard that you can write things you just heard somewhere and not check to make sure that is in fact true. Right? Why wouldn’t... I can show you the deeds for Latsch Island, that I can show you…here are the two deeds showing that the city purchased the land from the railroad, so there is no restriction from John Latsch on the use of the island. Wouldn’t that be an appropriate correction?
Post: I didn’t state that there was a restriction from John Latsch.
HM: The whole premise of your story...
Post: I don’t think that was a premise
MM: Oh yes it is.
Post: Ok, well, anyway...
HM: No “well.” You know that the island was not donated by John Latsch.
Post: I do not know that for sure.
HM: Well I am telling you that right now.
Post: I would like to see all of the legal documents for those properties before I am prepared to issue a correction
HM: Nope. Nope. Not going to happen. All the legal documents is too broad a request. You’re covering one hundred year’s worth of timeline for property.
Post: Well, I am not prepared to issue a correction before I see all that.
So where did Chris Rogers get the idea that it was general knowledge that Latsch Island was a gift from John Latsch to the city of Winona? He found it repeated over and over in the archives at the Winona County Historical Society, specifically in old newspaper accounts.
Take this one, for instance, from May 14, 2000, when Jerome Christenson wrote in the Winona Daily News, “Latsch Island, Prairie Island, the properties that would become the Westfield Golf Course and Gabrych Park, along with several smaller city parks and recreation systems were all purchased by Latsch and deeded to the city.”
If indeed John A. Latsch did not donate the land that is now Latsch Island, we apologize…to Mr. Latsch, who should be the only one who cares.