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Editorial: Simple question puts county manager in defensive mode

It was a simple question.

But for Davie County’s new manager, David Bone, it was a question he didn’t want to answer, was afraid to answer or refused to answer for whatever reason.

His refusal to answer the question makes it seem that something fishy is going on. In other words, it smells.

The simple question: Who asked that Davie County be included in a proposed state bill that shifts the requirement for governing bodies to publish public notices in local newspapers? Davie County wasn’t included in the original bill, but was added mid-stream.

What happened? Who authorized it? We don’t know.

But apparently David Bone does. And he’s not talking.

His first reply to the question didn’t answer it at all. He just talked about how the county values the Enterprise Record and looks forward to working with the newspaper in the future. We feel the same, Mr. Bone.

So, we asked the question again.

Bone’s reply. The county asked to be included in the state bill.

So, we asked the question again, pointing out that the “county” can’t ask for anything. People who work for, or speak for, the county can ask for something, but a county can’t talk.

His third non-answer to the question is the most troubling of all. He said that in a way, county commissioners had asked to be included because they approved the goals of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. If that had been the case, why wasn’t Davie included to begin with? Did every county which approved those goals get included in the bill?

No, they did not. It was just another smoke screen to avoid answering a simple question.

Another problem here is that the goal of the county commissioner’s association doesn’t match with what is in the proposed bill. The county commissioner’s association goal: “Seek legislation allowing public bodies to provide meeting notices by electronic means in addition to allowing notice through a newspaper with general circulation within the county.”

It’s a silly goal, because that is already possible without any legislation. That goal says nothing about giving the county the option of deleting the requirement that notices be published in newspapers. It says “in addition,” which means the notices could be published by both entities. The county could do that right now, but they don’t. The county can publish every legal notice on its own website, but according to Bone, they do not. Add to that the fact that the Enterprise also publishes these notices on its own website, and on a statewide website. And what about the 20 percent or so of residents who do not have internet access?

The bill also gives those counties the right to compete with newspapers for non-county public notices, such as foreclosure notices and others required by the state. There was nothing to this effect in the commissioner’s association goals. Do county commissioners think it’s right to try to take away business from an established local business?

There’s an argument to be made for counties to publish their own notices and not be required to put them in newspapers, but that argument should be statewide, not just for a handful of counties. Only putting a few counties in the bill makes it appear the newspapers in those counties are being punished. We may be, but we still don’t know why.

Yes, it could save the county some money. But that shouldn’t be the top goal. Keeping as many people as possible informed should be the goal, and that’s possible now without shifting revenue streams.

And it shouldn’t put counties in competition with other counties to see who gets the revenues from those non-county public notices. That has happened with newspapers, and it will happen if counties think they can do it better. The county could get these notices, count on that revenue stream, and then lose it if a neighboring county offers the same service at a lower price. And they will – just to get that revenue stream.

We’re not debating here (although we could) whether or not there should be requirements that the notices be published in newspapers. That’s the law. If you’re against it, change the law for everybody, not just a few counties.

The Enterprise Record will survive, no matter the outcome. Davie County will survive, no matter the outcome.

But Mr. Bone apparently only answers questions he wants to answer. Is that what we want in a county manager? Is that being honest?

We don’t think so.

– Mike Barnhardt