Why get along with the media? You’ll fare better on the front page. I’m a former government news reporter and can tell you firsthand that secrecy—sometimes in the form of complicated terminology— leads to unfavorable stories, even if political decisions are well founded and necessary.
I sat through countless city and county meetings. For the most part I cured boredom by scribbling cartoon faces of politicos on my oversize yellow notepad. I’d attend the work sessions and write a short piece for the next day’s paper, letting the public know what was on the table should anyone want to partake. For the most part, stories were typical government mumbo-jumbo … who wanted to build in residential zoning, what streets were set for paving, etc.
One day, the county tried to pull one over. At the end of a long work session, commissioners mumbled something—dare I say whispered—about that “licensing thing we’re going to vote on tomorrow.” That was it … no real discussion or explanation.
So of course I looked it up.
So guess what went on the front page, above the fold? And you can imagine how frustrated the political body was when mom-and-pop business owners filled the chamber and pleaded.
Now as it turned out, the county seriously needed to update liquor license fees. They were some 40 years behind the curve. But the initial lack of transparency resulted in mistrust. If the county was more forthcoming with information—where my idea of bite-sized government comes into play—I would have conveyed it differently to the public.
How could this have been “bite-sized”? If county commissioners clearly depicted how much they were behind in fees and how much they would gain to fund specific public services—and where that money would go—the reasoning for increased fees would warrant attention. Public servants tend to shy away from the media to protect interests, but this “hush-hush” behavior increases distrust.
Commissioners ended up tabling the issue due to vocal opposition and eventually agreed to increase fees gradually.