Thursday, March 24, 2011

Letters to the Editor silenced two weeks before the spring election

I didn’t intent this post for today. However, it seems appropriate to take action.

Background information:

Morton, the village I live in, is having both a contested village trustee election and a school referendum vote Tuesday, April 5th. There are four candidates for three positions for the village trustee election. Someone is going to lose. This is the first contested election for positions on the Village Board since the election for mayor six years ago. The school district wants authorization to spend over 12 million dollars to improve three of the four elementary schools. Although denied by the district, some voters are concerned that the fourth and oldest elementary school was left off of the referendum because it will subsequently be closed at a later date .

Meanwhile, Morton has two weekly newspapers. I rarely read one of them because it is seldom actually delivered. (Either that, or someone steals it before I get to it.) Both papers deliver on Wednesday. The paper I always receive is the Morton Times-News. This paper is owned by GateHouse Media, Inc. which also owns the Peoria Journal Star.

I opened the March 23rd edition of the Times-News yesterday and on page A4, the editorial page, read the following:

“A political letter regarding an upcoming election will be run two issues prior to the election to give the opponent an opportunity to respond the following week.” Now wait a second! The election is April 5th. Two issues prior to the election would be Wednesday March 30th and March 23rd. March 23rd was yesterday! I planned on writing a letter to the editor about the village trustee election. That possibility has just been precluded!

What does this two week exclusion mean? Let’s take an example. Steve Newhouse is an incumbent trustee running for reelection. Over the last four years, there have been three contentious issues where I was involved. The first was allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine. The second was to prevent alcohol selling establishments (bars and restaurants; not grocery and liquor stores) from having up to five video gambling machines. The final issue was increasing the village sales tax, at almost 99% of the businesses in the village, by about 14%.

From today until the election, Steve Newhouse can say anything to the electorate without being challenged through a letter to the editor—the easiest and probably the most beneficial method to reach the entire voting community. For example, Mr. Newhouse could tell an audience of tavern owners that he voted in opposition to the prohibition against video gambling machines. He could tell another group that he voted for the prohibition. Still another group that he didn’t vote on the issue. Which answer is the correct answer? How many are going to do the necessary research to find out the truth? If you are a village voter, do you know the answer?

I do. I have a CD of that board meeting. It was on 12/21/2009. Mr. Newhouse was not at the meeting and therefore he did not vote on the issue. Should any candidate be given a two week window where he could possibly mislead the voting public without an serious repercussions? Does this newspaper policy seem appropriate if the goal is to give the citizens of the community the opportunity to voice their opinions?

Another question? Did the paper publish this policy in the previous issue and I simply missed it? I didn’t recall ever reading this policy before yesterday. Consequently, I checked pages A4 and A5 of the March 16th edition of the paper. You guessed it! This policy is not stated on those two pages. If the 23rd of March was the last edition that a letter dealing with the trustee election would be printed, shouldn’t we have been informed of that decision in the March 16th edition?

By the way, in the March 23rd edition, no letters were printed in relation to the trustee election. However, three letters were published in relation to the school referendum—one in opposition to the referendum and two in favor of the referendum. At the end of the last letter to the editor, the following was printed on page A5:

“This edition, March 23, will be the last edition the Morton Times-News can print letters to the editor concerning the April 5 election.”

Can or will? Why can’t the paper print letters about the referendum in the March 30th edition? Is it physically impossible to do so? Would it be appropriate to inform the public of that decision BEFORE the March 23rd edition?

Finally, trustee Newhouse just happens to write his own column for the Morton Times-News. His column for the March 23rd edition is on page A6. At the end of the column it reports the following: “Stephen Newhouse is a Morton Village Board trustee with planning and zoning responsibilities. He agreed to write a column for the Morton Times-News to offer his perspective about village happenings.” Is it appropriate for a village board candidate to be given a forum during the campaign season when NONE of the other candidates seem to have been given the opportunity for the same forum?

Because of the above, I have decided two things. First, my post on Wednesday, March 30th will be the letter to the editor that I had planned to write for that edition of the paper. Also, I will write a second post dealing with the school referendum which I had not planned to write. Secondly, today I am mailing the following letter to the editor to the Morton Times-News. Do you think it will be published in the March 30th edition?

The letter to the editor:

Donald L. Vance
(my address)
Morton, Illinois 61550
(309) [my phone number]

Morton Times-News
P.O. Box 9426
Peoria, Illinois 61612-9426

Letter to the editor

Are you serious! In the March 23rd edition, you have the unmitigated gall to announce that that same March 23rd edition was the last time any letters to the editor dealing with the April 5th election—both in relation to candidate elections and the school referendum—would be published.

If you can’t or won’t fulfill your civic responsibility as a local paper, I will. Please provide the following information through this letter to the editor to the citizens of Morton. will post on March 30th comments by the author of this blog in relation to the village trustee election and to the school referendum. From March 31st through the early morning of Tuesday April 5th, excluding Sunday, the blog will post up to five letters to the editor per day dealing with either the trustee election and/or the school referendum.

For convenience sake, the blog will use the same requirements that the Morton Times-News uses.

Letter policy: “Letters should be 200 to 300 words and legible (typed if possible). Letters must contain the author’s name, signature (e-mail from your personal computer if contacting by e-mail—my addition) and phone number for verification. The author’s name and city will be printed.” I “ … reserve the right to edit all letters for style, length or libelous material. Letters will be published on a space available basis.” (Up to five per day.) “Letter writers assume responsibility for the accuracy of facts and figures stated in the letters.” I “ … have the right to choose which letters to publish.”

Letters may be e-mailed to me at or mailed to Don L. Vance, P.O. Box 481, Morton, Illinois 61550. All letters received by April 4th at 6pm or earlier will be considered for posting.

If no letters are received or available on a particular day, I will post one of my regularly planned posts. This is your opportunity to still speak out on these two important matters. Whether or not you use it is up to you.

Thank you

Don L. Vance
As is my practice, this letter to the editor has been posted on my blog—post date was March 24th.