Editorial – It’s important to  mind the details

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Details matter.

It’s especially true of good, transparent government that builds trust with the citizenry.

A flurry of recent headlines from Isle of Wight and Surry counties should remind public officials of the need to cross every “t” and dot every “i” when conducting the taxpayers’ business:

  • According to a story on today’s front page, half of the candidates running for office in Smithfield and Isle of Wight this fall had “material omissions” in their qualifying documents. The county’s elections board has decided to let them stay on the ballot regardless, making a lawsuit or two from disaffected candidates or their supporters a near certainty. It all could have been avoided had the candidates simply followed the rules to the letter.
  • In Surry County, Michael Drewry resigned from the Board of Supervisors after unsuccessfully attempting to fix alleged irregularities in the county’s approval of a controversial biogas plant. Now, Drewry is suing the board, an unnecessary distraction and likely to delay the project’s construction.
  • Staying in Surry, as noted by a letter writer on the facing page, county government chose to publish a critically important public notice about county finances in the dying daily across the river rather than in one or both of the weekly newspapers that directly serve the county. Whether the Daily Press meets state law’s vague requirement of “general circulation” in Surry is highly debatable, but a government committed to keeping citizens informed surely would publish all of its notices in newspapers that are widely read and actually cover the county on a regular basis.
  • Back in Isle of Wight, the School Board, which of all entities should be at the top of its game when it comes to complying with transparency rules, is back in court to defend itself against a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by a citizen who has prevailed previously on such a claim. A judge will sort it out, but retroactive amendment of its minutes for three meetings suggests that the board again made mistakes.

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Officials in both counties are quick to blame agenda-driven malcontents for nitpicking unimportant details. When it comes to good, honest, transparent government, however, the motives of your critics shouldn’t matter. The law is the law, and officials only invite more scrutiny when they don’t comply with its every letter. It’s time for public officials in both counties to tighten up.