STAFF COLUMN: With responsibility comes accountability

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We learned this week of the death of our former newspaper delivery person, Paula Maguire. Paula delivered the Herald Times and helped with distribution of our annual hunting guide for many years. She was also a rural mail carrier for the postal service.

Originally from the East Coast, she often mentioned how much she loved the mountain scenery and the wildlife she saw on her routes. She passed away on Monday, during her mail route upriver.

Godspeed, Paula. May your next journey be filled with great music, scenic vistas, and lots of beautiful creatures.

Yes, we’re all sick and tired of conflict, drama, upheaval, partisan politics, voter intimidation tactics, secret illegal meetings, questionable executive sessions, lame excuses, interpersonal noise and decades-old grudges. But being tired of something, or wanting to avoid controversy, doesn’t mean it’s OK to ignore problems and hope it goes away.

We’ve been waving the red flag about Sunshine Law violations, transparency issues, bizarre policy decisions, and the like for quite some time. At least since January 2019. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing our job. It’s entirely possible we haven’t waved that red flag quite high enough, or made enough noise about it all.

We’ve realized a majority of citizens — including the ones working on the taxpayers’ dime — are often ill-informed about how boards, budgets, meetings, executive sessions, personnel matters, public notices or elections are handled. Employees don’t know their rights and officials don’t know their limits. That leaves everyone dependent on their lawyers for guidance, which comes with quite a price tag.

In a small pond, it’s incredibly easy to make all these conflicts personal, particularly when everyone devolves to churlish behavior in the comment section (and how easy it is to fall into that trap, particularly late at night after a stiff drink or three), and occasionally, with that kind of bad behavior, it does get personal. But that’s not the real issue at hand.

The issue is this: with authority comes corresponding responsibility, and with responsibility comes accountability. The greater the authority, the greater the need for accountability.

And as this is a good space to explain the processes of the news business, we’d like to take a moment to share some basic information.

First, advertising is not an endorsement of any particular product, place, event or candidate. If you see someone you don’t like shopping at the grocery store, you don’t assume the grocery store is “on their side,” do you? OK, maybe some of you do, but the reality is the grocery store doesn’t really care either way who is buying their vegetables, as long as someone is buying them.

Political advertising, such as this week’s skybox ad, is paid for at the full rate either by a candidate, a committee or a party campaigning for a political cause or office. They’re common during election cycles, less common outside of election season.

Opinion pieces and letters to the editor are possibly the most misunderstood dribbles of ink on paper. Unless an HT staffer’s name(s) is on the byline, letters and guest columns are written by members of the public with something to say or by folks for whom writing a weekly or monthly column is a hobby, a passion, or a way to communicate their point of view about an organization in which they are involved. We reserve the right to refuse publication based on libelous statements or risk of harm. Anyone who is refused publication as an op-ed or letter is welcome — encouraged, even — to pay for ad space.

On a similar note, while we do take pride in our journalistic ethics and the legacy of the longstanding community institution we now own and operate, readers should be aware that our word is not the be-all end-all on any matter. The conclusions you come to will always be your own, and thus separating fact from fiction will always hinge on your ability to understand, and engage with the information presented to you, no matter where it comes from.