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Our view: The scrutiny democracy demands and the public deserves




At Tuesday night's Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins expressed frustration with local media over coverage of the Starkville Parks Commission's recent budget woes. A recent audit found the SPC's maintenance budget of $180,000 had only $12.35 left in it, with six months left to go in the year. The audit also found the department lacking in internal controls and habitually paying invoices late. 


"Don't call me for a quote because I don't want to talk to you newspapers," Perkins announced Tuesday night. 


We've stated on this page many times that the media is the means by which public officials are most accessible to taxpayers. If he denies access to the media, Perkins is denying access to his constituents. 


Specifically, Perkins Tuesday accused media of giving SPC budget issues significantly more coverage than other ethics offenses, such as the violation of open meeting laws by city officials earlier this year. In that issue, the Mississippi Ethics Commission simply gave some city officials a warning, saying the violations were technical and not malicious.  


The Dispatch has mentioned that finding by MEC no fewer than four times since the beginning of this year. Coincidentally, we've run the same number of stories on the MPC's budgetary woes. 


But the amount of coverage any media outlet devotes to an issue is no excuse for an elected official to refuse to speak on the record. In the course of news-gathering, some issues do get covered more than others. We don't dispute that or apologize for it.  


Intense scrutiny by media should be welcomed, not criticized. In most cases, the more the media shines light on an issue, the more the truth becomes visible. It's not a perfect process, but it is a process crucial to democracy. 


Last night, newspaper reporters were the only major media represented at the meeting of the Starkville Board of Aldermen. If Perkins refuses to speak with newspapers, who else will provide the scrutiny democracy demands and the public deserves?



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