Making Public Business Public

All too often, we hear comments about news being taken out of context, or
that something got “bad press.” More often than not, what this really means
is that something people would prefer to be kept quiet appears in the
newspaper, often involving a public official.

Honesty works best. Maybe it’s the Live Free or Die philosophy gone haywire,
but the State of New Hampshire does not have an ethics code or disciplinary
mechanism for local officials. That’s left to individual municipalities, and
many have none. Even in towns with written ethics codes, it’s not uncommon
to hear a local official take a swipe at the code and question both its
validity and necessity. When voters approve an ethics code, it is often
missing any enforcement mechanism, putting its effectiveness in doubt. We
don’t agree with the viewpoint that anything goes and that officials know
fleece themselves when a potential conflict or appearance of conflict of
interest arises. In fact, some officials are quick to say the alleged
conflict is none of anyone’s business.

What takes place at all board and community meetings is public, and we
report accurately on it to let residents know how their tax dollars are
being spent. Letting the public keep the members of boards and committees
transparent it is our job, no matter how hard, because that many not be the
will of them. The public should, at any time, be able to address what is
happening or what has happened at a meeting and to express their concerns
and have their questions answered publicly. We strongly suggest letters to
the editor as a way to do this.

The boards and committees sometimes choose not to respond to the press, but
that does not present a transparent image and is disrespectful to the
newspaper. We know that just because people are related doesn’t mean they
don’t think for themselves and follow opposing viewpoints. But, when it
comes to rescuing yourself, especially in your work, some connections like
family members pose questions. It is suggested to just be forthright and say
why you rescuing yourself. People will notice and respect you for being the
bigger person.

We also know, especially in towns with written ethics policies and or
committees that we heartily support, that appearances matter, and any
appearance of a conflict of interest should be stated publicly.
We know something else, too. Reporting that the parties involved in any
matter are related does not create a problem. Making public business public
does not equal “bad press.” We report facts, and residents can form their
own opinions.

A newspaper should be the watchdog of the public’s right to know what their
officials are doing. That’s what reporting on taxpayer-funded salaries,
ordinances, policies, and procedures is all about.

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