‘Support your local newspapers’

Published 10:22 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

I totally agree that citizens need to know what happens in government at all levels.

I also realize that keeping citizens informed is an important expense — it takes labor and materials. Some citizens have called for local government to record its entire meeting and provide it to any who ask, and to keep that record on file forever. This we already do, and have done for many years!

Every word is recorded … with no editing!

Any newspaper, protest group or citizen who wants an accurate record may request an unedited audio version of any meeting. We do not ask for a reason, nor have a waiting period. We do ask $1 to defray costs of duplication.

Every meeting of our local board of supervisors must, by law, be publicly announced.

Three or more supervisors may attend any public or private gathering, but cannot determine public business there.

Closed sessions must be announced, and only for specific reasons.

All votes and decisions must be in a public meeting and recorded. These recorded votes and laws are recorded in our “Minutes,” maintained forever. “Order Books” — from the 1700s to now — can be found in the circuit court office.

In communist countries, there is no competition, so no paid advertising.

This means no advertising funds to support independent newspapers.

Communist governments set aside funds to create a “people’s newspaper,” but that’s a government-controlled, not free, press.

A democratically elected government should not be creating an edited record of unverified comment at board meetings. That’s an American task for a free press!

Charlotte County is lucky to have always had local newspapers. Whether independent newspaper editors or government employees, we are human and we may not always agree.

But taxes should not be used to produce an edited version of discussion at board meetings. We should not hire someone to create abbreviated “minutes” of extensive comments: that introduces biased reporting and extra costs.

We should not hire someone to transcribe every word that is said, which is even more expensive, and takes a specialized skill to insure accuracy.

We should not purchase electronic transcriptions (closed captioning) that technology still has errors, and to print, just wastes paper.

Our local supervisors could digitally record a video of every meeting — the equipment and expertise for that could be purchased and installed, but not cheaply.

Perhaps an interim measure might be to provide a way to stream the audio recordings through the Internet, to save folks from having to ask for a CD when they want to listen.

As for me, I’m a First Amendment person (free speech, free assembly, free press).

Good information includes not just citizen comment, but informed remarks from agencies (such as VDOT and architects) that speak at our meetings, and the remarks of board members as well. 

We already record every word of meetings. Just ask for a copy of that recording.

And with more advertising and more subscribers, our local papers could afford even more fact-checking and reporting. Support your local newspapers!

Nancy Carwile is a Charlotte County Supervisor and guest columnist. She can be reached at ncarwile@hotmail.com.