Serious allegations, thorough reporting play into timing of story

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It would be hard to find any local election that has generated the interest and concern that have surrounded the race for Walla Walla County sheriff.

It is not uncommon in hotly contested races for allegations to be made. Until recently in the sheriff's race there had been vague allegations made by unnamed individuals.

The allegations were alluded to for the first time in print in statements by John Turner in a guest column in the Union-Bulletin and more directly in a letter to the editor Sept. 27 by Courtney Moore, a partner of Ash Hollow Winery's then-accounting firm. The allegations Turner and Moore were trying to address focused on Turner's time as managing partner at Ash Hollow. There were concerns being voiced that Turner had improperly charged personal expenses on Ash Hollow's credit card and that he spent lavishly when on company business.

On Sept. 29, Turner presented the Union-Bulletin with a statement signed by him; Moore; Moore's partner and Turner's campaign treasurer, Debora Zalaznik; and Kris Hedine, Turner's attorney and former Ash Hollow attorney. The statement sought to clear Turner of any wrongdoing and to explain the situation. (This document can be seen at union-bulletin.com.)

The letter to the editor and this document were almost immediately countered by the release to the Union-Bulletin of payroll/bookkeeping records by Ash Hollow's former board chairman, Jay Tucker. The records and statements by Tucker challenged Turner's version of the situation.

When allegations are made about the honesty and integrity of a person running for the top law enforcement position in the county, the Union-Bulletin has a responsibility to listen and to try to sort fact from fiction. We have done that as much as possible. In some cases the best that can be done is to assure that all sides in the dispute have an opportunity to present their case to the public. The fact that the allegations surfaced so close to the time ballots were to be mailed brought additional pressure to move quickly.

However, it was important the newspaper do a thorough job of reporting rather than rushing to print. This involved several interviews with Turner, Tucker and others. It seemed that with each interview a new element was exposed that required providing one side or the other with the opportunity to respond. Others who might have been able to shed more light on the situation were contacted, but refused to discuss the matter. The situation is complex and required detailed reporting to fully explain each side.

After about 2 1/2 weeks of reporting and writing, the story was carefully checked for accuracy and to assure all sides had been given an opportunity to have their say. Documents were examined and re-examined. Sources were given a final opportunity to clarify their statements and positions.

We hope this helps readers understand the situation and why this story is being published so close to the election.

Rick Doyle can be reached at rickdoyle@wwub.com or 526-8306.

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