Saturday, April 4, 2020
April 4, 2020

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Let the community be heard

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

At the end of the day, we all make decisions. That’s what we do.

Should we have homemade Italian sausage sandwiches? Should I hang on to the 1986 Prelude? Do I go to La Center and take another beating playing Texas Hold ’Em?

E la vita.

Decisions are made in our working lives, as well. And a Friday editorial asking that residents be heard on this controversial I-5 bridge project was one of those decisions.

So how did that editorial happen? Where do editorial stands come from?

One of the hats I wear here is being a member of our editorial board. Our board, like everyone else in this country, has opinions. We write them in The Columbian, and they are our institutional voice.

Personally, I don’t decide what that voice is. I am one of five members on the board, and — essentially — I have a 20 percent voice.

It’s true that Publisher Scott Campbell has veto power if he’s so inclined to use it, but I’ve not seen him use it.

OK, so if I have a 20 percent voice in deciding opinions, what voice do I have in coming up with ideas for an editorial?

Well, as much or as little as I want. We welcome all ideas from all board members, as well as anyone in the public.

So what about this Friday editorial calling for a vote on the bridge?

Disenfranchisement woes

We all are probably getting bridge fatigue. We’ve done so many stories on an I-5 bridge replacement that if you gave us a nickel for every one of them, it would probably pay for the $3.6 billion project.

But it’s a huge deal, and the plethora of print is worth it.

We’ve done a number of stories from a number of different angles. One angle — a sense the community isn’t being heard — is growing.

In the past, I felt there was a way to hear what voters had to say, because there would be a needed sales tax increase to pay for the light-rail maintenance.

I had all but forgotten a story we did in 2009, when a bridge engineer said that even with a rejection of the sales tax increase, it still could get done. You know government: There are always ways.

So I asked reporter Erik Robinson to revisit that point and — sure enough — there are ways.

That troubled me.

On Monday, I came in and suggested an editorial. I shipped an e-mail to our editorial board.

“With the idea growing stronger that the sales tax vote on maintenance of light rail really won’t be a make-or-break vote on the bridge, I’d like to … open the discussion on whether or not (the community) should have a vote on light rail and the bridge.”

I went on to voice support of the communitywide vote.

“To not have an advisory vote on this huge issue is disenfranchising to the community.”

One never knows if an idea will fly — believe me, I have a pile of my rejected ideas that’s almost as high as our bridge stories — but this one did.

A voice

One thing we should do as a newspaper is make sure the community has a voice. We do that, for example, with the comments area of our website.

I learn a lot from reading and engaging readers in our comments section. It’s fair to say, frankly, those comments played a major role in my pushing this vote idea.

Look, we all know there are many players, many voices that have to be heard on this bridge issue. It’s not just a Clark County thing.

Regardless, Clark County leaders should hear from Clark County residents.

Not everything should rise to the level of holding a vote to hear voices. But huge things should. And this is a huge thing.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.

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