The business of government is your business.

Have you ever gone to a city council, school board or county commission meeting? Have you ever addressed elected officials during the public commenting portion of local government meetings?

Probably not.

Actually very few people attend local government meetings and far fewer ever address elected representatives.

Still, people complain about the actions of government, are indignant about tax increases or question public policy. To be fair to elected officials, we have to ask those who question what government has or has not done: Where were you during deliberations prior to final decisions?

We encourage our readers to show up and speak out. It is surprising when you consider the number of people who email, call, stop by the newspaper or stop us on the street to express their point of view as compared to the number of people who sign up for public commenting at government meetings, comment through social media or write letters to the editor.

People who have legitimate concerns should always be willing to take ownership of their grievances.

No one should ever fear exercising First Amendment rights. The First Amendment grants the right to petition government for a redress of grievances. The courts have consistently upheld the rights of the public to access the halls of government, lobby for causes they believe in, express their reservations about pieces of legislation and generally make their voices heard.

Petitioning government can take many forms and include actual signed petitions, nonviolent protests, letter writing and participation in public meetings.

Our county commission, school board and city councils provide for public commenting at each meeting. Residents should address the people they elect to represent them at every opportunity.

Of course, voices that are reasoned, informed and calm are generally heard above the rabble-rousers who simply seem to complain to complain and disagree to disagree. When residents show up at public meetings and comment in very informed ways, officials are likely to be more responsive. Vile, angry, uninformed diatribes are rarely effective.

When people are willing to take ownership of their own words and sign their names, they are taken more seriously. Blind, anonymous commenting or ranting lacks credibility and is generally dismissed by anyone who has the power to create change. Historically, newspaper editors have simply discarded anonymous letters to the editor — and for good reason.

An open, free public forum is always available to the public and is under-utilized. Public officials read the newspaper. Letters to the editor and commenting on articles on the newspaper website or through Facebook are excellent ways for residents to have their voices heard.

We encourage readers to take advantage of these forums. The newspaper does not have to agree with your point of view. Creating strong and meaningful public dialogue serves all the public, regardless of positions on particular issues. We only ask that individuals writing letters to the editor provide name, city of residence and telephone number, for verification purposes. Letters should deal with public issues, not personal or domestic problems, not contain libelous content and not be vile in nature.

Constructive public dialogue refines us and strengthens the Republic.

Once again we are reminded of the words most often attributed to Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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