I've always noticed, when dealing with some of Mason's older citizens, that they sometimes say inappropriate things. Not that what they say is incorrect, it's just that most of us censor ourselves and hold in some comments, or at least wait for a more conducive setting to let those comments roll off our tongues.
I am discovering, as I get older, that it is a factor in the aging process that loosens our tongues a bit. Though we are more educated on the correct "niceties" and proper decorum, we have also spent more years navigating those waters and know the difference between being polite, and just avoiding a confrontation.
As editor, and as a reporter covering much of Mason county's various governmental meetings, I've spent a lot of time sitting in meetings. Anyone that knows me well is aware that I hate long meetings, almost as much as I hate talking on the phone. I have always made myself adjust to the discomfort of both tasks, as that is a key element of my job. It does not mean that I like them any less. In my middle age, I now find that I'm a bit more prone to be surly after having to perform either task for any length of time.
When you've sat through 12 years of City Commission meetings, County Commissioners' courts, and school board trustee meetings, it starts to add up to a lot of time spent sitting and listening. For the first couple of years, I was somewhat passive, and simply recorded what transpired at the meetings, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Somewhere along the way, I've changed my approach.
I no longer hesitate to ask questions for clarification when the item under discussion seems confusing. Since I'm hard of hearing, I will often ask the participants to repeat what has been said. And, I draw upon that 12 years of having heard similar discussions and arguments to ask questions when I feel that the debate has reached a point where people are talking just to hear their own voices.
I am still polite. I address the members of the body with the respect they deserve as elected officers of this community. I do not call names or make up facts. But, I no longer worry that I'm going to hurt someone's feelings by asking questions.
Part of the progression that I've made is in realizing that, since most members of the public don't attend these meetings, the newspaper's role is as the advocate for those citizens. I figure that if I don't understand why a decision is being made, the public is probably going to be just as confused, as they've not sat through the other meetings where the item has been discussed ad nauseam.
In the past few years, I've questioned the right of different governmental bodies to go into closed session, when the law clearly proscribes when such closed meetings are allowed. I've brought up decisions by early iterations of the group, and asked if those earlier decisions carry any weight in the current discussion. I've also voiced complaints that I've received from readers when those same readers were not willing or able to be present during the meetings.
I'm not the smartest bird out there. I'm also not an elected official, just a member of the public. But, I am a person who is concerned that our government always needs to be responsive to its citizens, and that it needs to follow the same rules it imposes upon those citizens. That doesn't always make me the most popular person at meetings.
And there is that part of me that has crossed the 50 yard line of life that looks at those situations and realizes that this is not a popularity contest. I have a job to do and I take it very seriously. I'll sometimes have to ask questions or make comments that will irritate some people. But, the next day we will still be neighbors, working together for the common good of our community.
I'm okay with that.
It’s all just my opinion.