By Tim Timmons
If you’re a sports fan, you probably saw the clips over the weekend from Indiana Pacers star Paul George and Oklahoma City standout Russell Westbrook. If you are not a sports fan, bear with me if you please.
Both were asked questions (very fair questions, mind you) during post-game press conferences. The Paper’s newsgathering partner is WTHR, Channel 13. Their columnist, Bob Kravitz, asked George the question that’s been on Pacers’ fans’ minds for a while, is he staying in Indianapolis or leaving? Granted, George and the Pacers had just been swept out of the playoffs. But if Kravitz doesn’t ask that question, someone else will. If no one does, readers will wonder why the hell not. It’s fair, and yet, George responded with, “I ain’t even at that point, Bob. Next question.”
In Oklahoma City, Westbrook was in a press conference when a teammate got asked a question about the team’s failure to play well without their star. Westbrook wouldn’t allow his teammate to answer, going on a bit of a rant. It was a fair question. Didn’t matter. Westbrook ignored the reporter and called for the next question.
Bing. Bang. Boom. End of story.
These guys refused to answer in front of microphones and cameras. At some point, whether it’s on www.theplayerstribune.com or a social media account, they’ll probably reverse course. There, they can say it the way they want, when they want. They won’t have the prying questions from those pesky media types. Oh, those darn pesky media types!
It brings to mind a little of what happened as the Indiana Legislature was drawing to a close last week.
Rep. Tony Cook from northern Hamilton County is a pretty good guy by all accounts. The retired superintendent stood tall years ago when he worked at Hamilton Heights and welcomed Ryan White into the school. Some Hoosiers might remember Ryan White. He was the teenager who had contracted AIDS way back in 1987 – a time when AIDS was a lot more scary because a lot less was known about it. Cook did the right thing and no one should ever forget that.
Yet during this session, he introduced legislation that would essentially eliminate the requirement to publish in newspapers the capital projects funding plan (or what your tax dollars are paying for) and the school bus replacement fund plan (or how much of your tax dollars are going into those wheels that go round and round and round).
The effort to eliminate the requirement for our government (heavy emphasis on our) to publicly tell us what they are doing with our (heavy emphasis on that word again) money is becoming more and more prevalent every year. At some point, the government will go the way of Paul George and Russell Westbrook and simply won’t tell us at all . . . until they feel good and ready.
And that, my friends, is sad. I am not a prepper or a conspiracy theorist. I’m like you. I live here, work here and pay an awful lot more of my paycheck into taxes than I want to.
And while I get the idea that I work in the newspaper biz so that this comes across like I want to get some of that government money back, it’s not the case. The reality is that our government has written legislation that limits how much money we can charge it for public notice ads. How much? Well, we routinely charge businesses anywhere from $5 to $8 per inch for advertising. But the good folks in government only pay about $3 per inch – so it’s not like we’re getting rich on this.
The fact remains that more Hoosiers read newspapers – whether online or in print – than ever and the vast majority of those Hoosiers (85 percent according to an American Opinion Research 2014 poll) support staying informed through public notice ads.
Now, lest we leave this out, I imagine Cook and other lawmakers – including good folks on school boards – will tell you that they spend huge amounts of money each year on those ads. Well that’s true. Sort of. North Montgomery ($1,460), Crawfordsville ($1,990) and Southmont ($1,620) spent a combined total of approximately $5,100 in 2016 on ads they were required by the state of Indiana to run with your favorite Montgomery County daily. That’s out of a total combined budget of around $41.5 million dollars.
$5k out of $41.5 million.
It’s pennies. Schools spend more on cupcakes for birthdays.
OK, maybe not. But it’s not too far off.
Fortunately, new Gov. Eric Holcomb seems like he gets it, or at least some of it. Monday, he vetoed House Bill 1523, a bill from another Hamilton County lawmaker, Rep. Kathy Richardson, that would have set a maximum amount the government could charge you if you wanted public records that took them more than two hours to get. Holcomb, in part, wrote that he views “this proposed legislation as contrary to my commitment to providing great government service at a great value for Hoosier taxpayers. Providing access to public records is a key part of the work public servants perform and is important from a government transparency standpoint. I do not support policies that create burdensome obstacles to the public gaining access to public documents.”
Thank you, Governor!
Look, don’t get the wrong idea. From Cook to Richardson, these are all good folks. Cook has certainly proven that in the past. School boards prove it all the time. But we need to get past the idea that the press is the enemy. Elected officials need to stop taking the voters for granted and respect the voters (i.e., us) enough to be as transparent as possible with taxpayer money.
Stop acting like public notices are killing the budgets. There’s much more fat in those budgets than public notice ads. Trust us a little and the public might start trusting you a little more as well.
Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Tuesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.