Candidates need to brush up on basics

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It’s too bad every citizen doesn’t take a Journalism 101 class at the local college.

For journalism majors the class is long, boring and typically too early in the morning. But it provides a basic structure of what you need to know about the world — not just journalism.

The class’s lessons are ones the vast majority of candidates in this year’s city elections desperately need.

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The editorial board of The Democrat has been meeting one-by-one with the candidates for mayor and aldermen since last week. We talk informally with them in an attempt to get to know them, their platform and their ideas.

So far, nearly all of the candidates who do not currently hold office are operating under one incorrect assumption.

“I’m not privy to the city budget.”

We’ve heard it at least five times. The statement sometimes comes up on its own; sometimes it’s a reply to a question from us about city spending.

Either way, the candidates are just flat wrong.

You don’t have to be an aldermen or the mayor to be “privy” to the Natchez city budget. All you have to be is a person.

The budget, like many other city documents, is public record.

It’s on file in the city clerk’s office, and if you ask for a copy the city has to give you one.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway has always been easy to work with, and he’s often even explained parts of the budget to our reporters.

But you don’t have to be a newspaper reporter to get such information. You simply have to go ask.

Like many budgets, the city’s can be a bit confusing to those not familiar with such documents. But a few moments of brainpower can usually make sense of the columns and columns of numbers.

Anyone seeking to make decisions for the City of Natchez by running for aldermen or mayor should take the time to run down to city hall and ask to see the budget.

If the candidate doesn’t have time to study the numbers now, he or she probably won’t make a good aldermen or mayor after June.

I’ve been appalled in interview after interview to learn that most of the folks aspiring to lead our city haven’t made the first basic step to understand it.

The slate of candidates includes some good leaders and likely some bad ones. That’s normal. And challengers never have as much knowledge as incumbents. The learning curve is large.

But for those currently running or for any citizen with hopes of running in the future, a quick trip downtown should show you exactly what you are “privy” to. Learning the details will only make you a better candidate.

Flip to the next chapter in the Journalism 101 book and you may also learn a bit about the open meetings laws that go hand-in-hand with the public records laws.

It’s never too early to start learning what parts of city meetings must be conducted in open, public session.

Another chapter in the textbook will break down the roles of appointed and elected boards.

Some candidates may come to find out that under the current setup a Natchez aldermen can’t effect any direct change in the public schools from their city hall chair.

The journalism book has lesson after lesson — ethics, Robert’s Rules of Order, meeting minutes — why wouldn’t our candidates take some time to educate themselves equivalent to the level of a college freshman studying journalism?

And in the spirit of a true college student — going to class isn’t necessary, just study up on your own time so you can ace the test.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or