Editorial: A ‘Divisive’ Role? We Beg to Differ

May 16, 2018 5:19 PM0 comments

Is it “divisive” for a newspaper to report the vote on a long-contested budget item, as a News-Press reader suggested recently? Is announcing the final vote on an important budget item “misleading and divisive” even when it only reports the vote? Does it “perpetuate the false narrative that come budget time, there are winners and losers, rather than the truth, which is that all City Council members and School Board members are on the same side,” as Beth Hahn’s letter to the editor in last week’s edition asserted? She asked, “Why must you (the News-Press) repeatedly pit the City Council against the School Board?”

We think the concern is misplaced, blaming, as it were, the “messenger” rather than the content of months of rigorous, and in our view healthy, debate over differences among the Council and School Board members that resulted in the recent unanimous final vote. We don’t like the “zero sum” winner-loser paradigm as a way to approach life any more than anyone else, but the vote on the budget meant that all school employees “won” salary increases and classroom benefits they would not have had the vote gone the other way, and all we can remind folks is that that’s what actually happened.

None of the reporting asserted that anyone on the Council is “anti-schools” for arguing the way they did on the issue right up to the point of the final vote. We’ve editorialized that we are confident all involved were acting in the best interests of the City and its residents.

What’s at issue is an inherent difference in the functions of the two bodies — the Council and School Board — that inevitably arises almost every year. One is responsible for the overall budget and tax rate, the other is tasked with representing the needs of the students and the school system. It is from the need to reconcile these that differences are manifested.

We have been delighted at the extra effort that City Hall has made in this budget and capital improvement process to provide as much public transparency as possible, including all the rigorous questioning and commenting by Council members, the more detailed the better, which all should welcome and enjoy.

To suggest that reporting on such deliberations, including on how they inform what necessarily come down to voting, is “divisive” is the exact opposite of what’s been the effect of the 27 years the News-Press has been in the business of doing in the Little City.

There were years when the Council votes were acrimonious and split on angry 4-3 divides. That’s how we found things when we launched this newspaper in 1991. Our reporting, and a reasoned editorial posture — especially, as former Superintendent Dr. Stuart Roberson acknowledged in the mid-1990s, the role of our chief as president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time to bring the then-competing interests of the school and business communities onto the same page, and ever since — has done more to unite and move our community forward than anything else.

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