Think newspapers have lost their relevancy? We suggest you consider recent events involving the Marshfield mayor and Board of Aldermen and reconsider.
At issue between the mayor and three of the four city aldermen is a letter the mayor wrote to the aldermen and released to The Marshfield Mail to offer his side of a story in which board members accused him of hoarding information they had requested.
The letter was the mayor's attempt to defend himself and city staff members from allegations of wrongdoing, specifically of restricting necessary information from the board prior to decision-making.
In recent meetings, it has become common for one or more of the aldermen to berate city staff, typically City Administrator John Benson, for not providing information in a timely fashion.
What really got under the skin of the aldermen, causing two of them to boycott a meeting, resulting in lack of a quorum, was the public nature of the mayor's response.
Think of that for a moment. These aldermen were willing to forestall their duties to their constituents in part because they did not like the fact that the mayor chose to communicate directly with citizens through the pages of The Mail.
Alderman Mark Bowers, who called for the meeting boycott, even said in his remarks to the board at a special meeting last Tuesday that he chose to address the issue in a special meeting because it was his belief that The Mail does not cover special meetings. Bowers is the newest member of the board, and special meetings are a rarity, but The Mail covers them all the same.
Regardless, Marshfield citizens ought to be very concerned that members of the Board of Aldermen wish to conduct their discussions in relative privacy. The fact seems to be that our elected representatives wish to conduct discussions of city policy and comportment away from the prying eyes of the newspaper, which means they wish to discuss these matters away from you.
It would be hard for most citizens to get away for a few hours twice a month to witness city government in action personally. Instead, most rely on the only media source that covers meetings of the Marshfield Board of Aldermen, and that is The Marshfield Mail. If everyone did decide to show up at a meeting of our representative government officials, we would quickly run out of seats. Even standing, we could not fit into the city building. We could overflow into nearby Rotary Park and still not have enough room for every Marshfield citizen. It turns out that this is a pretty good system, the newspaper attending meetings and recording on the business conducted there. But when the aldermen don’t wish for the newspaper to be present, and by extension, they don’t wish for you to be present, the situation certainly raises an eyebrow.
We have a saying in journalism: Sunshine is the best disinfectant. When all voices can be heard openly discussing important matters, it is good for the health of our democracy.
If the Board of Aldermen wish to respond to the mayor’s open communication with constituents, we are happy to reserve a page for them. All they have to do, like the mayor, is ask.