How to be part of the public debate
Let’s begin with the notion that public finance isn’t simple.
The laws that regulate it can be ambiguous and contradictory. Everybody has their own way to interpret how well money is being spent. Most of all, public finance is the expression of political processes.
So even if you could boil it down to a clear set of facts, there’s going to be heated debate when a CH-UH school levy appears on the ballot twice in the same year.
The Heights Observer doesn’t take sides on issues like the recent school levy. Its role is to host the debate—like a soapbox on the corner. The Nextdoor online platform does the same thing, but in an unmoderated environment. Some people like that.
The debate in the Heights Observer is moderated. It's still a soapbox, but more like one with an editor who organizes the line, asks people what they're going to talk about and, as politely as possible, stops them from droning on, talking nonsense, making things up, or saying the same thing the last three people said.
Kim Sergio Inglis, our part-time, paid editor, gets to do most of the heavy lifting. She'll be the first to admit that she's not an expert in public finance. (She's an English major who chose her college, in part, because it didn’t require her to take math.) But, part of moderating the debate over a school levy is trying to make sure that contributors who also aren't public finance experts are using facts well—or at least explaining their points of view.
You might be surprised that not everybody can be assumed to have checked their facts. Or to have understood them fully. Or to have used them in good faith. Trying to check this stuff often means being an editor to people who don't want an editor; it's literally thankless.
Kim does it well. She attempts to put together an interesting, balanced, readable package of opinions from a wide variety of perspectives. She treats people with care, even when it's not reciprocated; she maintains a higher standard than a social media post; and she seeks input on the tough calls.
There are things contributors can do to make the job go better. Here are some suggestions:
- Enter your letter or opinion directly into the “Member Center” at the www.heightsobserver.org website. It's the only way we accept them.
- Read the "policies for contributors" page on the website.
- Keep letters and opinions short. We have guidelines for word counts on the website. These aren’t sacred rules; we occasionally do run longer pieces. But your odds of being published rise dramatically if you follow the guidelines and don’t hog all the space.
- Be accurate. We don’t have the manpower or expertise to evaluate every datum in every letter and opinion we received about the school levy. But we do consider striving for accuracy to be part of our job. So we do our best. If we can’t resolve a question, we’ll err on the side of caution—which may mean leaving it out.
- Remember, the opinion expressed, and the evidence cited, is that of the writer.
- When in doubt, be kind. Editing is bruising work.
Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum is co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.