Paper should share in blame for referendum snafu

Column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Kudos to The News Virginian for keeping Waynesboro city government accountable on the issue of the snafued-up Nov. 6 bond referendum.
But …
What about the paper’s own accountability in the mess involving the legal ad that was supposed to be published in the NV 10 days prior to the election that didn’t end up ever getting into print?

Maybe I missed it, but I don’t seem to have come across anything in The News Virginian even slapping itself lightly on the wrist for its role in the screwup that came to light last month.

In a statement that appeared in a Nov. 29 article on the matter, the paper’s advertising director, Sherry Suggs, said employees had searched through records from September, October and November and “found no documentation of having received an order for a legal notice regarding the bond referendum.”

That’s been it as far as the paper’s examination of what might have gone wrong on its end.

Clerk of court Nicole Briggs, meanwhile, has said that she mailed the legal notice first-class to the paper on Oct. 18 along with a cover letter and order of publication.

So obviously we have a situation of she said, she said – which at best signals to me that the paper shares culpability for the error with the clerk of court.

I don’t think the community is getting this sense from reading the NV – which has largely gone silent on the ad issue while at the same time giving the city hell, and I agree rightfully so, regarding the confusion that existed on the binding or nonbinding status of the referendum.

To be fair, when I say that the paper has largely gone silent, I mean that it has been silent editorially at the same time that it has been rather vocal editorially on the binding or nonbinding status of the referendum. Just today, a story in the news section reporting on the details of last night’s city-council meeting quoted city manager Doug Walker defending the city’s actions relative to the placement of the ad.

Personally, I don’t know that either issue is one that should have or ultimately could have been used by bond foes to overturn the results of the election – though if one were to be judged to be more harmful than the other, clearly it would be the failure of the legal notice to be run in a timely fashion, or in this case at all. That one was a court order, and anybody with any kind of working familiarity with court orders knows that you follow them, or pay hell.

And if you’ll allow me to go off on another tangent here, I as a taxpayer think that we could do away with the section of the state code that requires cities and counties to run legal ads in newspapers as a means of informing the public of various goings-on involving government affairs – one, because fewer people are reading newspapers today, and the trend there is only going to be in favor of more in the way of decline in the future, and two, because of the amount of money that is involved in the process of trying to reach a declining number of people.

I’ve digressed.

City resident Greg Bruno shared what I thought was a good idea relative to the placement of legal ads in the future at last night’s city-council meeting.

“It’s my contention that the city ought to, in order to prevent this kind of glitch from occurring in the future, not only place the responsibility of submitting the notice to an individual, but also put the responsibility of confirming that the notice has been published – because this is very important, and we don’t want it to happen again,” Bruno said.

“We might have a situation where we can’t so easily go to another vote and have it approved. So making this kind of mistake in the future could be more costly than it was in this particular situation. So I would suggest that we not only submit the notice, but confirm that it was published,” Bruno said.

Walker answered Bruno by indicating that the city already has such a system in place.

“The city-council clerk does have a process in place for verifying that notices of publication for the newspaper have been received and been published. And I assure you that the clerk of circuit court now has a similar process,” Walker said.

I might be reading something into this, but I wonder if what he’s saying there is that the city has had this issue in the past with the NV that justified the implementation of such a checks-and-balances policy.

Might that one be worthy of future exploration?

  

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.



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