My thoughts

by Pat Bradford
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My pastor is a pretty wise man, although he probably wouldn’t say that about himself. Last Sunday he taught us how to get wisdom, and in that he referenced the wisdom of Solomon; the Bible records him as the wisest man ever and interestingly enough, the richest.

Rev. JD Simmons said that if we were presented with the same question posed by God to Solomon, “Ask! What shall I give you?” 2 Cron. 1:7b, some of us would use that one-time wish to ask for monetary gain; some would ask to win the lotto (with intentions to do good with it, no doubt).

Or some of us would use that amazing gift by saying to God, “See that enemy of mine over there God? What I want is for you to kill him.” Or, others might say, “See that enemy? Don’t kill him, but make him suffer really horribly.” 

That sermon kept playing in my mind as I drove into Raleigh this Tuesday to attend a Senate State and Local Government Committee hearing for a vote on SB287, a local public notices bill allowing governments to hide notices on government websites instead of running them in newspapers. 

Then too, I also pondered how the day would go, buoyed by the comments of Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover County, who publically and vocally opposed this proposed legislation, even to the point of an editorial against it just last Friday in StarNews (4/12/13).

Representative  Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, has also repeatedly said he is opposed to including New Hanover County in the legislation. But, even though Woody White, chairman of the county commissioners, had indicated that he did not wish to support the legislation, still, I was concerned. As of Tuesday, New Hanover County was not included in the proposed legislation, but a similar effort is underway in the N.C. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ted Davis Jr. had told me by phone Monday afternoon he would be adding our county to the House’s version of the bill.  

This was my second consecutive Tuesday trip to Raleigh to petition the committee’s senators on this bill that would effectively remove the portion of the law that the public has to be notified of action by the government that will impact them. Tens of thousands of North Carolinians do not have Internet, or computers in their homes, and yet these senators would vote to move municipal government notices from newspapers to government websites, regardless of portions of the state without high speed Internet service. 

Surprisingly, this was from a new legislative body that was elected on a platform of transparency — one that won on less government, not increased government — but the idea had begun to percolate that those senators, the new Republican majority, have taken the great gift entrusted to them by the citizens, aka voters, and some are using it for vengeance, to get even with their enemies.

Granted, this is not a new phenomenon; power does corrupt, but I was just naive enough to be stunned by it at the tense Senate State and Local Government Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Under Sen. Tommy Tucker’s, R-Waxhaw, leadership as co-chair, I watched in shock as he railroaded through a favorable reading to a substitute version of SB287. 

This came with a rapid-fire voice vote that didn’t indicate a majority supporting the bill, in my view or the other 19 newspaper publishers, editors or managers present in the room. By our count of voters present, in fact, we felt we would have won the vote, even though the senator from New Hanover County, Thom Goolsby, was astoundingly, absent. 

When a fellow senator, Michael Walters of Proctorville, quickly tried to ask Tucker for a roll-call vote to make the vote clear, Tucker cut him off, saying, “Adjourned!” and rushed from the podium. And it was over. 

But no, moments later, as we milled about in dumbfounded conversation with a few embarrassed senators who had expressed opposition to the legislation, we witnessed Sen. Tucker, clearly angry, with an upraised arm, gesturing and shouting at the North Carolina Press Association president, “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

Really, Sen. Tucker?

In the hearing, Sen. Tucker had openly noted that he has had his share of unfavorable press. It was impossible to miss what seemed like a furious adversarial spirit toward the press from Sen. Tucker and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and cosponsor Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, the chairs of this committee. 

Have they been harmed by “bad” press and are now using their power to punish the press in its pocketbook for reporting unfavorably toward them and their issues? Because, besides burying public information that needs to be public on government websites, this bad legislation will take much needed revenue from newspapers, there is no question about that. On this topic, Sen. Tucker agreed that, yes, reporting on nonprofits, churches, relays for life, scouting, and little league scores, which newspapers typically publish as a free service to the community, will suffer due to the resulting loss in revenue. He didn’t express concern.

These senators seem not to care about the harm the bill will do to the portion of the state without Internet access, and those of lower income or the elderly, or even about the jobs impacted by passage of this legislation. Newspapers are employers in their respective communities; they seem to have conveniently forgotten that one, too.  

For decades, North Carolinians have relied on the newspapers in their communities to be the place to go for notices of public hearings and planned changes by their local governments. Public notices like the CAMA notice on page C-9, are mandatory legal advertisements placed in newspapers by the government so that citizens know what’s going on in the community. They provide citizens with a chance to participate in a decision before it affects them and their rights. Public notices are published in newspapers and websites like ours to ensure the widest audience possible and provide nongovernmental accountability to prove all legal requirements are met.

As I write this, I am also attending this week’s city of Wilmington’s council meeting, always multitasking. I paused to pull up the city’s website to read the evening’s agenda. Wouldn’t you know it, after three failed tries to load the city website, I gave up.  Just for fun, I also tried the county website, which did load.

Moving public notices to government websites is a bad idea. 

Using power entrusted by citizens to get vengeance on enemies is an even worse idea.

“For it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Romans 12:19

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