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Today's word on journalism

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dueling masters on words:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

--William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

--Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961), on William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962)

Change in open meetings law worries Paradise mayor

By David Baker

March 31, 3006 | PARADISE -- Of the 395 bills passed by the 2006 Utah Legislature, it is a revision of the Open and Public Meetings Law that has Mayor Lee Atwood concerned.

This revision mandates that along with written minutes, an audio, or audio and video recording be made of the proceeding of public meetings. Unlike larger communities, Paradise lacks the equipment to make such a recording.

"For Paradise it's kind of tough. Our council chamber isn't set up with mics and recording equipment," Atwood said.

For Atwood, the financial investment is a concern. Although he has no idea what recording equipment costs, he said it will be more than buying a tape recorder. And with the amount of background noise in the council chamber, Atwood fears a lack of more advanced equipment may make the recordings "just a bunch of noise."

"If you listen, would you be able to make heads or tails of what's going on?" he said.

Atwood said they want to be in compliance as quickly as possible while minimizing the cost. But they aren't trying to keep government action secretive. "The wheels of government turn slowly. So it makes it hard to jump right out and be in compliance," he said. "We don't want to hide or duck away from things."

Besides the financial concerns, Atwood worries about the effect recording may have on the amount of input given on ideas, and the atmosphere of the meetings.

"You will be more frank if you know you aren't being recorded," he said. "People could sit back and not say anything."

Atwood is concerned recording may create of a lack of honest input, which would hinder the development of ideas in their early stages. People are more willing to talk openly if they know everything they say isn't going to be recorded, especially in the beginning stages, he said.

As a small town, we want people to come and voice their opinions, Atwood said. But he fears recording may deter people from doing that.

"It's not the atmosphere a small town has," he said. "You are working with elected officials that are your neighbors."

The town council doesn't meet in a large room with microphones, and they aren't seated above everyone else in big chairs. Often those who are on the agenda simply pull up a chair at the council table. For Atwood, this intimate atmosphere is an important part of government in towns like Paradise.

"Our format isn't too conducive to recording," Atwood said. "We are more laid back... with more of a casual atmosphere.

"The state Legislature creates a state law that's one size fits all and it doesn't," he said. This happens because the legislature considers bigger cities but fails to think about smaller towns, he added.

Despite his concerns, Atwood was able to find one positive. "Maybe our meetings will be quicker," he said jokingly.

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