Get to know your local public officials

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We’ve got city council elections coming up in May, and there is no need for a school board election because it seems the public must be pretty happy with the job that incumbents Creed Roberts and Joe Mike Young are doing since they drew no opponents.

Preparing to cover council elections prompted me to reflect on our local Sealy and Austin County officials. We’re pretty fortunate to have folks who are transparent and friendly and answer our questions when we ask them. But I don’t think we ask them enough questions, and I don’t think we always ask the right people.

When I became a reporter in the mid-1990s, we didn’t even have Google. We had a “library” within the newsroom and the staff librarian was tasked with cutting out multiple copies of every single story in every single paper and filing them under subject headings such as a person’s name, or a general topic like “golf course” or “school board” or “economic development.” When we reporters needed to research an article, we went into the library and opened one of about a thousand file cabinet drawers, pulled the file of cut-up stories and read them all before we sat down to write.

We called our sources at their homes or offices. If they were on vacation, we wrote in the story that they were unavailable for comment. If we left five messages and didn’t get a return call, we said they did not return phone calls. If the only number we had was an office number, and we called after 5 p.m. and got an answering machine, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and said they could not be reached for comment.

We didn’t know anything about their personal lives because there was no social media, and although some rich folks might have had “car phones,” nobody was texting anyone or sending direct messages through Instagram.

But today we have more accessibility. We rely on audio and video recordings of public meetings and get quotes from public officials via text message, which gives them ample time to craft something that makes them sound good but may not be a genuine off-the-cuff reaction to our question.

Now first let me say, that’s on us. We need to dig deeper and ask tough questions. We need to hold people accountable and not take what they say at face value. We need to ask for documentation and attribution. We should never use anonymous sources or write one-sided stories to further the agenda of an individual.

That being said, you – the voters, the taxpayers, the residents – also have an obligation. If you care about how your tax dollars are being spent, how your kids are being educated and how your services are being provided, go to those meetings. Get involved. Serve on a committee. And most importantly, vote.

I guarantee you that all the elected officials on the school board, city council and Austin County Commissioners Court care about the entity they serve. Some are friendlier than others, but I promise you they all care. Otherwise they wouldn’t be spending so much time for so little money and absolutely no glory.

So that means, folks, that it’s on you. If there’s an issue that matters to you, it’s important for you to show up and ask questions. If you can’t make it to a meeting, send an email or make an appointment to visit with the appropriate official. I’ve seen the Sealy City Council on countless occasions make plans to go do a site visit and look at someone’s property. I’m pretty impressed by that. I’m not suggesting that you blow up their phones or place outrageous demands on them, but don’t complain from the comfort of your armchair. You don’t usually get an answer if you haven’t asked the question.

April Towery is the managing editor of The Sealy News. She can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at editor@sealynews.com.

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