If I had to sum up the major problem regarding the conduct of city and county governments in Helena-West Helena and Phillips County in one word it would be “unprofessional.”
For those who have never had the opportunity to attend a city council or quorum court session, it should be duly noted that these meetings rarely conclude without some members becoming involved in an uncontrolled vocal free-for-all.
For what it's worth some of the members of both bodies have complained about the coverage of the local newspaper. The accusations range from bias to comments indicating that what we report is outright lies.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Once upon a time, I was able to praise the quorum court for taking care of business in a timely and peaceful manner. The meetings averaged about 30 minutes in length and consisted primarily of reading and passing the ordinances. Then, for a lengthy period of time I put another reporter on the beat and I did not attend a QC session for perhaps two years.
The first couple of meetings I attended on my return were mostly routine in nature. However, all of a sudden things began to break down and spiral out of control. Sometimes as many as four conversations would be taking place at the same time, items would be discussed without any explanation whatsoever and Roberts Rules of Order were completely ignored.
Let me assure you, it is difficult to cover government meetings under ideal circumstances, much less total confusion.
On one occasion, a JP accused me of not getting the facts correctly while another assured me that I was quite accurate. To eliminate any doubt about my skills as a reporter, I assigned other reporters to the quorum court meetings as the staff increased. However, nothing changed. The other reporters were telling me they were facing the same problems that I encountered during the sessions. Several concerned citizens that attended the meetings also approached me and asked, “What is going on there?”
For the most part our county officials have treated me with the utmost courtesy, particularly County Clerk Linda White who provided me with a packet of information that was quite helpful in connecting the dots as far the general business of the meetings was concerned. Ditto for County Treasurer Becky Gattas, Circuit Clerk Lynn Stillwell and Sheriff Neal Byrd.
One city council member asked my reporter, “Why do people call the council sessions a 3-ring circus?” Another one asked him, “Why did Randy throw us under the bus?” His comment was in reference to an argument two council members had with a presenter at the council meeting. It should be noted here that I did not write the article in question.
Folks, we don't sit around and write fiction stories about what is going on in our city and county governments. We simply don't have time for that.
Page 2 of 2 - The sad and unpleasant truth is the newspaper is simply a reflection of what is going on in that community. Sometimes the mirror reveals even the ugly warts.
Having been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, I expect some harsh criticism and bashing. We have broad shoulders and we can take it. The real problem here is lack of respect for other people's opinions, which is obviously the case as demonstrated publicly by some of our elected officials.
It's time to get back on track and take “un” off the front end of “professional.” Shouting insults and pointing fingers at others simply isn't ever going to get the job done. We all need to learn how to agree to disagree without calling each other liars and uncomplimentary names.
It is your responsibility as a citizen to know what is going on with the officials that you elect. Go to a city council meeting and/or quorum court session and find out how your elected paid officials are representing you and earning your tax dollars.