Developers Ralph Duda III (left) and Anthony Tolliver answer questions on Aug. 18 from residents who are not happy. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

OPINION |

My newsroom colleague Rance Burger recently heard from two readers questioning why he mentioned in his reporting another heated exchange between developer Ralph Duda III and (presumably) a resident of University Heights.

Burger is a 38-year-old grown man. He’s a veteran reporter and certainly doesn’t let things like this bother him. He doesn’t need me to defend him.

I’m writing this column to explain why, in my view, reporters must include these tense, confrontational exchanges in their reporting.

‘I’d like you to go please,’ Duda said

Duda’s company is Be Kind & Merciful. His project is proposed for the northwest corner of National and Sunshine. It’s called the Heights. He wants the zoning changed from residential. The project would have a parking garage, restaurants and public art on the first level, retail shops on the second level, offices on the third level, apartments on the fourth and fifth levels and the possibility of a sixth level.

This is from Burger’s Nov. 8 story. The meeting was at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel on Glenstone Avenue.

Ralph Duda stopped the presentation and told a woman to leave the hotel conference room. Duda said the woman mouthed an expletive at him.

“I’d like you to go, please,” Duda said. “You don’t look at me and motion (expletive), that’s not acceptable. We’re not standing for that today.”

“I deserve to sit here and listen to what’s about to happen to me,” the woman responded.

Burger didn’t hint in his story what the word was. Since I’m writing about this exchange, it’s “a**hole.”

The woman mouthed the word at Duda. He saw her do it, and he repeated the word when he asked her to leave. He then relented and did not ask security personnel to toss her.

How old do you have to be understand ‘history of urban conservation?’

Here is email No. 1.

Mr. Burger,

Presenting citizens that way when ONE person whispered under their breath? Stop making us look evil. You’re obviously too young to understand the history of urban conservation.

First of all, as I said, Burger is 38. How old must he be to understand the history of urban conservation?

I’m 69 and I don’t understand the history of urban conservation.

How can I? There is no Wikipedia entry for it.

My guess would be it involves conserving things in urban areas. I’m in the dark regarding its history.

Not fair when it’s just ‘one bad apple’

Here is email No. 2 to Burger:

I have to comment on your reporting of the last meeting with BK&M and the neighborhood residents. As you stated, ‘Like in two previous public meetings, foul language flew out, this time at about the 25-minute mark of the two-hour meeting.’

I believe this is exaggerated the same as the first meeting by the press. Foul language did NOT fly out at this meeting except for the fact that Mr. Duda kept the interchange going by repeating the same word calling this person out.

It’s not to say that it was not initiated by one resident of the neighborhood but you are insinuating that more than one individual made inappropriate comments using foul language.

Yes, frustration is deep as questions are asked with no real solid answers. I have attended all meetings from the first meeting with BK&M as well as any since then including the one at the Double Tree.

One bad apple should not be reported in the manner that puts the black mark on all of the residents in the neighborhood where I live. There are two sides to every story and I hope that you will correct this and in the next story tell it like it really happened and not inflate ‘the news.’

Private security personnel with real guns

I have attended two meetings between residents and Duda, the developer. They are as tense and confrontational as any I have ever covered.

Duda dropped the curtain on the first one after a woman, presumably a resident, called Duda’s wife a “c**t” and then told his father to “f**k off.”

After that ignoble conclusion, Duda hired private security personnel with real guns to maintain order at the second one, held in a tent. It rained hard, and the power went out inside the tent.

At this second meeting, I saw two security personnel take steps toward resident Mark Fletcher who, at that moment, appeared intent on preventing the meeting from happening.

Regarding the other side of this story, I have to wonder: What is the “other side” to these incidents? What does one write?

Is it? “The meeting was 90 minutes long, and no one was shot.”

Or? “Not a single one of the other 80 residents in attendance called Mrs. Duda a ‘c**t.’

Perhaps? “She shouted an obscenity, but it came from the mouth of a bad apple.”

Burger didn’t insinuate anything. He reported what he saw, as did I.

I think security personnel is a good idea

And from what I’ve seen thus far, when you have that many upset people gathered, I think security personnel is a very good idea.

I recall Feb. 7, 2008, when a gunman entered a Kirkwood City Council meeting and shot and killed five and wounded two others, including a reporter from the Suburban Journals, where I worked at the time.

It seems to me that rather than send emails to Burger to encourage him to ignore these confrontations, your efforts are better spent talking to the bad apple (or apples) in your midst.

This is Pokin Around column No. 75.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin