Extra Extra : August 2005

Blacks pay higher interest on home loans

Binyamin Appelbaum and Ted Mellnik of The Charlotte Observer used mortgage loan data from 25 top lenders to show that “blacks who bought homes in communities across America last year were four times as likely as whites to get high interest rates for mortgage loans.” The interest rate disparities occurred even when blacks had substantially higher incomes. The paper looked at 2.2 million mortgage applications from 2004 for its study and posted a breakdown of patterns on the Web. (Editor's Note: Others interested in doing similar stories should see Jo Craven McGinty's IRE Beat Book, Home Mortgage ... Read more ...

Police disregard rape complaints

Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis police have failed to file official reports on many sex crimes over the past 20 years, instead writing informal memos on cases that would not be counted in the city's crime statistics. "The Post-Dispatch analyzed many of these cases and found police often discounted claims by women who were reluctant to testify, easy to discredit or difficult to locate." The paper fond that "Memos were a symptom of greater problems in the city's handling of rape cases." Many records were obtained only after a lengthy FOI battle.

Church leader takes in millions

John Blake of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used public tax and property records to show how Bishop Eddie Long, leader of the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, received more than $3 million in salary and property over four years from a tax-exempt charity that he founded in 1996. The charity's compensation for Long was nearly as much as it gave to all other recipients combined in the same period. Blake used the charity's tax returns and property records in Georgia and corporate papers filed in New York.

Legislators leasing vehicles

Chris Casteel of The Oklahoman used rarely-scrutinized records detailing congressional office expenses, finding that “Rep. John Sullivan is leasing a sport utility vehicle in his congressional district for $1,242 a month at taxpayer expense. Rep. Frank Lucas rented a car in December in Oklahoma City and paid more than $1,500 for it out of his congressional office account.” Both lawmakers opted to rent or lease rather than seek reimbursement for using their personal vehicles.

Judging school performance

Sanjay Bhatt of The Seattle Times used achievement and growth data from Seattle Public Schools to examine "high-performing" schools. Bhatt explains: "I used Excel's pivot table feature to do a neat 3 x 3 table that gave readers new insight on looking at test scores. I triangulated two different types of data — achievement and growth. The achievement data shows the percentage of students who passed the state's high-stakes test. The growth data shows the average student made high, normal or low growth in a year. What you see when you triangulate is that there are lots of low-achieving ... Read more ...

Developers take advantage of agricultural breaks

Samuel P. Nitze and Beth Reinhard of The Miami Herald used local property data to show that “under a 1959 state law intended to preserve agriculture, developers reap huge property tax breaks by herding cows or raising crops in the most unlikely settings. Some pay less in annual property taxes than the average homeowner on parcels slated for multimillion-dollar projects.” One developer saved a quarter-million dollars last year by placing cows on land containing industrial warehouses. Florida has lost about 8 million acres of farmland since the law intended to preserve such property went into effect. With a methodological description.

Disparities in distribution of fed transportation money

Erica Werner of The Associated Press analyzed county-by-county spending in California contained in the recently-passed federal transportation bill, finding “vast disparities in how the money was doled out, and perhaps no contrast was more stark than between California’s two fastest-growing counties. Riverside County has five times as many people as Placer County. But residents of Placer County, which connects Sacramento and north Lake Tahoe, are getting five times as much money per person in special projects as residents of Riverside — $261 each in Placer compared with $47 per capita in Riverside, half the statewide average of $95 per person.”

Race a factor in Dallas jury selection

An investigation by Dallas Morning News reporters Steve McGonigle, Holly Becka, Jennifer LaFleur and Tim Wyatt found that prosecutors and defense attorneys in Dallas County exclude jurors on the basis of race, despite Supreme Court bans on discrimination in jury selection. The findings were based on an analysis of information from juror cards, transcripts of juror questioning, court records and interviews with more than 100 current and former prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jury consultants, social scientists, jury scholars, law professors, jurors and prospective jurors and community activists. The package, continuing through Tuesday, includes Supreme Court decisions and trial transcripts, as ... Read more ...

Little oversight of profitable charter school

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Connie Langland and Dale Mezzacappa report on a charter school's manager "who has turned Chester Community Charter School into a profitable, expanding business in the heart of the virtually bankrupt school district." Vahan H. Gureghian's Charter School Management Inc. has a 20-year contract with the school's board of trustees that both have refused to make public. The county has paid the company about $10 million since 1999 for management, with a large percent of that going toward Gureghian's management fee. The agency charged with overseeing the school's finances "says it has ... Read more ...