Small-town ties strangle South Shore: Looking back on five years of reporting for the Tribune |

Small-town ties strangle South Shore: Looking back on five years of reporting for the Tribune

Gregory Crofton

This town needs thicker skin.

In five years of reporting for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, I’ve attended every type of meeting at South Shore and gotten a sense of how our leaders operate.

The same people go to the same meetings and find out what’s about to happen or could happen; but instead of hashing out an issue in public they are protective of what they know.

Public meetings are part of the problem. Often what’s being spoken about is so technical that even if members of the public do show up they don’t understand the discussion. Hence our group of leaders has become something like a private club.

Maybe it’s because the town is small and the stakes are high. The issue of Lake Tahoe’s fading clarity, and the fact that the region is an international destination, ends up mixing big-time, million-dollar restoration and growth issues with small-town politics.

What you get is an unsavory cocktail. This clash dilutes progress and warps the political process in favor of organizational and personal interests over public interest.

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What South Shore needs is better communication. Instead of negotiating a deal behind closed doors or keeping a project private, our leaders should speak their minds and be proactive about starting public debate.

I think many of them are afraid to speak up because this is a small town, people gossip, and there may be social repercussions for being direct.

Leaders can be judged by their friends and neighbors for a decision or comment they make and be ostracized from the community – or worse, they may lose their high-powered job or their project may get derailed.

So what? You’ll earn respect and get more projects done that the community can accept and be proud of if you’re honest and straightforward. Act like you live in a big city where decision makers don’t have to meet the affected public every week in the grocery store.

This town needs leaders with thick skin to withstand the scrutiny and criticism that comes with making the decisions necessary to restore Lake Tahoe and keeping the economy healthy.

Done … for now

Wednesday is my last day at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Here are some stories I covered that I will not forget.

— Sitting in Douglas County District Court to watch videotaped testimony from Thomas “T.J.” Soria Jr., a 19-year-old convicted of helping his father murder Krystal Steadman on Kahle Drive. On the tape, Soria Jr. spoke graphically about how his father abused him and how he helped lure girls to his father’s apartment. (2000)

— A family and a retired detective walking into the newsroom with a detailed report that linked the Zodiac Killer to the disappearance of South Shore casino nurse Donna Lass. (2000)

— Being invited by Brad Piazzo to participate in a fire-training exercise just down the street from the Tribune. The South Lake Tahoe Fire Department conducted real fire drills in a hotel on Harrison Avenue due for demolition. I got to wear an oxygen mask and stand inside a 400-degree burning motel room along with a small group of firefighters. (2001)

— Arriving on the scene just before a trapper rolled away with a dead bear and two dead cubs in his pickup. The bears were suspected of breaking into several cabins at Spring Creek. (2002)

— Sitting at Mandarin Garden with my editor, Jeff Munson, and photographer, Jim Grant, when we heard on Grant’s hand-held police scanner about a brush fire under the Gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort. (2002)

— Trying to interview Sen. Harry Reid atop Heavenly about funding to restore Lake Tahoe. Momentarily mesmerized by his gold watch, I drew a blank after I had gotten his attention. I thumbed aimlessly through my notebook until the question I wanted to ask popped back into my thoughts, a process that took about 30 seconds. (2002)

— Watching ducklings get plucked out of a storm drain at the intersection of Ski Run Boulevard and Lake Tahoe Boulevard so they could rejoin their mother and swim off into the lake. (2003)

— Being invited to attend and report on a welcome-home party on Kokanee Trail for Robert Fullerton, an attack helicopter pilot and 1982 South Tahoe High School graduate who fought in Iraq. (2003)

— Writing about ballfields made with fake grass that never seem to get built. And reading “Gipper the Ripper” headline above a photo of Ronald Reagan blasting off a hill while skiing at Heavenly. (2004)

— Interviewing young men and women good enough to ski the Cirque and compete at the North American Freeskiing Championship at Kirkwood. Covering The String Cheese Incident concert at Stateline, and writing an in-depth story about chiropractic adjustments used to fight fibromyalgia, a painful disease of the nervous system. (2005)

Off to Nashville

So where am I headed? I’m going on a road trip through Oregon and Washington before heading for Nashville to live with my 36-year-old brother, a musician. Once there, I will either get a job and stay for a while, or start sending out résumés to find another job in journalism.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at