Havre Daily News - News you can use

Our View - A newspaper's job is to report the news


April 21, 2017

The Havre Daily News has great respect for the people who volunteer countless hours to serve on boards that make local events and facilities like the county parks, the local museums and the county fairgrounds work. People work tirelessly with little thanks, and often criticism, on those boards, in the chambers of commerce, in service groups and organizations and just to volunteer at events and to help people.

All of those people should be commended and thanked.

But The Havre Daily News believes they always have to do one thing while doing their work — obey the law.

The Great Northern Fair Board appears to be doing great things, taking steps to improve the fairgrounds, improve the fair and increase the number of events going on at the grounds outside of the fair. The board appears to be using a very organized, realistic and pragmatic approach in their work, and The Havre Daily News applauds their efforts.

One of the actions the board has taken is to hire a fairgrounds manager, filling a spot vacant for four months and giving the fourth person in three years the opportunity to work on the grounds. Again, kudos for getting someone in the position and The Havre Daily News hopes Dave Brewer has a long and fruitful time managing the grounds.

But the board voted to hire Brewer in an unannounced vote. No one knew they were going to vote, and only they, and apparently Brewer and a few officials, knew they had voted until weeks later.

When The Havre Daily News found out about the vote, it asked some board members if they thought voting without having advance notice of the agenda was good and proper, and they said they believed it was.

In its next edition, The Havre Daily News ran an article quoting an expert on Montana’s public meeting and freedom of information laws saying it wasn’t. Under Montana law, public boards have to publish an agenda and give the public a chance to weigh in.

The issue came up again this week, when the board, in a regular meeting with the item properly on the agenda that was published properly, voted again to hire Brewer.

Two members of the board, Tyler Smith and Scott Doney, during the public meeting verbally assaulted the Havre Daily News reporter covering the meeting for writing the previous story about the board breaking public meeting laws with their unannounced vote. More on that later.

First, a look at their complaint, previewed by board chair Paul McCann when he essentially told the reporter while he was at the Havre Daily News two weeks ago that he should be writing stories about things that matter, other issues are out there to write about.

We believe that a public board voting — illegally — without letting the public know they are voting is kind of important.

Montana law seems to back that up.

The state Constitution in Article II., sections 8 and 9, says the public has the right to expect agencies to afford opportunities for it to participate in their decisions and the right to examine any public documents and observe in the deliberations of public agencies except where the agency determines a person’s right to privacy outweighs the right of the public to know.

Montana law uses an entire chapter, Chapter 3 of Title 2 of Montana Code Annotated, to cover the same issues.

If some public officials, on boards or wherever, are not familiar with those parts of Montana law, maybe they should review it.

The Havre Daily News is of the opinion that its job is to report the facts to its readers. Sometimes that is fun, exciting, light-hearted; sometimes that is very serious, controversial, even disturbing; sometimes, to many people, it might seem plain boring.

When something is happening — like a board violating the Montana Constitution and violating Montana law — we believe it should be reported.

The Havre Daily News does not believe the Great Northern Fair Board was trying to do something wrong; the members probably didn’t even know that what they were doing was illegal. But it was. And now they know.

As far as verbally assaulting a reporter covering a public meeting, people should know two things.

One is that good reporters don’t participate in public meetings, they report them. A reporter who is doing his or her job should not respond to criticisms people make at public meetings about their paper or their work. A public meeting is not the place to confront a reporter who is covering that meeting.

The other is, reporters don’t choose what they write. The editor decides what goes in the paper and the final form of the article, the headline, everything for editorial content. Even if the editor doesn’t see something that goes in the paper, doesn’t know that something in an article is an error, as the saying goes, garbage rolls uphill. The editor is responsible.

If someone has a problem with an article or with coverage or lack of coverage, they might mention it to a reporter — but the person they need to talk to is the editor.


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