Friday, May 27, 2016

Paper backing school tax prints names of petitioners against it, defends its decision

The Lebanon Enterprise, a weekly newspaper serving the geographic center of Kentucky, supports an extra school tax of 5 cents per $100 worth of property that the Marion County Board of Education voted to levy for construction and renovation of schools. Last published the names and addresses of more than 1,500 county residents who signed a petition to subject tax to a referendum, and this week Publisher Stevie Lowery defended that.

"Some people have questioned the newspaper’s motives for publishing the information," Lowery writes, first denying a rumor that the school superintendent "put me up to this. That’s laughable. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that claim is absolutely absurd." The paper didn't do likewise with a similar petition in 2007, which resulted in a referendum vote that killed the tax. Why? Lowery writes that it "was a brand new issue for this community, for me and for this newspaper. Back then, I didn’t take into account that the recallable nickel petition is, in fact, a public record."

Lowery, left, said the paper had a responsibility to publish the petition because it's "a serious matter" that shouldn't be "taken lightly" and people have a right to know who signed it. Also, "According to several phone calls we received here at the Enterprise, the people gathering the signatures didn’t fully explain the purpose of the petition, and in some cases, people were allegedly lied to when they were asked to sign it. One person told my staff that when she was asked to sign the petition she was made to believe that the petition was in favor of the nickel, which it most certainly is not. We’ve also received several calls from people whose names appear on the petition, but they claim they did not sign it. I know of one specific person whose signature appeared on the petition, but she didn’t sign it. A family member forged her signature. I’ve spoken to this person directly, so I know this to be a fact." The Enterprise has a story about that.

"Some people claim that our publishing the names and addresses of the people who signed the petition was a 'shaming' tactic," Lowery writes. "How so? If you willingly signed a petition because you felt like it was the right thing to do, what do you have to be ashamed of? If it’s something you strongly believe in, wouldn’t you be proud to have your name associated with it? . . . Some people claim that publishing the names and addresses of the people who signed the petition make them targets for retaliation. I don’t buy that. People who support the recallable nickel might try to educate the folks who signed the petition. And, educating is not retaliating."

The Enterprise is owned by Landmark Community Newspapers Inc.

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