A task force to tackle underage drinking is a step forward in addressing this communitywide issue. Borough leaders have previously passed the buck to schools or social services, but it should be clear by now that a broader, enduring and more coordinated effort will be needed to bring measurable change.
A primary decision will be: Is the goal of the task force to prevent drunken driving fatalities or is it to change the town’s culture in a way that reduces demand for alcohol by young people? These are very different goals.
More police and trooper enforcement, support and a closer watch by adults, and meaningful penalties administered across the board can reduce drunken driving. That should be relatively inexpensive and achievable within weeks or months.
Reducing demand for alcohol by young people is a larger, more difficult question that would likely require changes to local laws and attitudes, changes in adult behavior, and changes to local infrastructure, such as increased recreation opportunities. That would take more time and more money, but would likely net longer-lasting benefits.
It’s unwise for the Haines Borough School District to "verbally" evaluate the superintendent to avoid making public his report card.
Evaluations of the borough’s highest-ranking administrators are an important paper trail that can protect the municipality against claims by administrators. A few years ago, assembly members used evaluations of a dismissed borough manager to demonstrate their action was justified.
Keeping evaluations public lets taxpayers keep rough tabs on how their administrators are doing – important information when controversies or questions arise.
Consider the school board recall of 1993, a battle that divided the community for years and started when the board turned down the superintendent’s recommendation to fire a principal. The community took up sides, but the most critical information – the objective evaluations of two administrators – was kept secret.
Keeping administrators’ evaluations secret serves administrators, but the public loses, and sometimes it pays dearly as the result of being kept in the dark.
A reader recently asked how it is I can write commentary on the same issues I report. Aren’t reporters supposed to be objective?
It’s a good question and one that reflects a popular misunderstanding of how reporters work. Journalists are trained to seek the truth objectively, to be fair to opposing sides, to seek and test evidence, and to present the news in proportion to its importance.
Objectivity doesn’t mean reporters should be blank slates without an opinion on what they report. Reporters -- like other people -- typically have strong opinions on what they learn about, which they generally keep to themselves to avoid appearance of bias.
Objectivity refers to the fact-based and scientific process of reporting, not to the reporter’s state of mind.
It’s my experience that reporters who start with an opinion of an issue they’re covering often -- after objective research and reporting -- change their opinion or temper it. Such a change of opinion reflects the importance of objectivity, its critical role in public debate, and its place as the gold standard in the journalism trade.
Most larger newspapers keep reporting and editorial-writing jobs separate, again to avoid appearance of bias. That’s a luxury of manpower we don’t have on the CVN’s shoestring budget.
Typically I write commentaries to raise points that haven’t been heard, or won’t be voiced, for whatever reason. I also use them to campaign for open meetings and open records, as they are the oxygen that keeps our form of government alive.
You’re free to take or leave my opinion. That’s fine. I realize our most important work is telling you what’s going on. That’s the news, and we strive to report it objectively.
-- Tom Morphet