Editorial Roundup: Indiana

 
 
Updated 8/24/2021 1:00 PM

KPC News. Aug. 22, 2021.

Editorial: Keep public participation civil

 

For the first time in a long time, the public is taking an interest in government meetings.

That's a positive development, although the result hasn't always been so positive in practice.

Government boards are required to meet in public meetings in accordance with Indiana's Open Door Law. This gives any member of the public the opportunity to sit in and observe.

Usually that's a right that's not exercised, as often the only member of the public at many local meetings is a journalist, like the many reporters from KPC Media Group covering the happenings in your communities.

People generally only show up when they're upset about something happening in their county/city/town/school, which has been the case recently as citizens have wanted to take the opportunity to weigh in on topics ranging from COVID-19 to school curriculum.

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Many of the people showing up to public meetings to speak do so with decorum, calmly and respectfully expressing their questions, concerns and opinions to elected officials.

But many is not all, and, increasingly both locally and nationally, some have chosen to come to public meetings to shout, scream and be otherwise disruptive of the process.

Passions can run high, but speakers should remember that elected officials serving on city councils or school boards are their neighbors, people who have stepped up to try to serve in the best interest of their community.

Certainly members of the public would not enjoy it if elected officials stood there screaming at them, so it puzzles why people think it's OK when the roles are reversed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While the opportunity to attend and observe public meetings is a right, the opportunity to speak is not. Open Door Law does not require that a government agency allow public comment. Public comment periods at meetings are a privilege afforded to the community.

Make no mistake - we do not suggest that any government agency withdraw public comment. Comment periods at meetings are one of the best opportunities for citizens to communicate with their elected leaders directly and that opportunity should not be curtailed or eliminated because they don't want to hear criticism from their constituents.

But, technically, they don't have to. And, if members of the public choose to be disruptive, unruly and/or abusive, we suspect more might choose not to.

The simplest course of action is to, therefore, approach public comment with civility.

Know and abide by the guidelines boards have set up for taking comment. Be respectful. Make a point and allow others to make theirs.

If you feel your concerns have not been addressed, you can always return to speak again at another meeting, or to seek out a separate audience with officials who can discuss concerns in more depth. And our newspapers welcome letters to the editor on topics of local interest.

Ultimately, if you feel your current representatives don't represent your interests or those of the community, consider running for office yourself. Elections allowing the public to choose their leaders are the cornerstone of a representative democracy.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Aug. 22, 2021.

Editorial: A continuing upward trend: Census figures show area's impressive decade of growth - and challenges lying ahead

A decade ago, we learned from newly released census data that Fort Wayne and its metropolitan area grew while rural areas stagnated.

Republican lawmakers, eager to maintain their Statehouse majority, set quickly to work redrawing Indiana's electoral lines while Democrats worried about gerrymandering.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Updated decennial population data for 2020 was unveiled this month, and the situation resembles the release in early 2011 of census figures from the year before.

Allen County and Fort Wayne experienced strong growth from 2010 to last year, while populations grew at a slower clip in more rural areas in northeast Indiana '" or not at all. GOP legislators again are moving ahead with plans to draw new maps as Democrats and advocates for transparency push for more public hearings and a fair redistricting process.

Amid that earned cynicism, though, are reasons for optimism.

Eight of 11 counties in northeast Indiana saw populations increase in the past decade. Allen County's 8.5% growth rate '" the population now is 385,410 '" is twice the national average. Fort Wayne's population grew by 4% to 263,886.

That's as census officials reported populations in more than half of U.S. counties dropped from 2010 to 2020. Some areas in the Midwest also lost residents.

'Looking at the individual counties, you start to see different patterns with some gaining and some losing, but as a collective, it bodes well for the Fort Wayne metro and all of northeast Indiana,' Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute, said after numbers were released.

The data breeds confidence in part because it shows the region is a desirable place to live.

'You're probably living here because of family or a job,' Blakeman said in an interview last week.

'Allen County has a two-fold population advantage,' she said. 'One, it is an urban center. We're seeing the larger urban centers gaining population. There is a draw to metropolitan areas.

'Also, cities tend to have larger racial and ethnic populations. These tend to be younger and have higher birth rates.'

Most of the counties in the 11-county northeast Indiana region grew, and LaGrange saw 8.9% growth. Adams County (35,809) ranked third '" behind LaGrange and Allen '" with a 4.1% increase.

Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties saw populations fall.

Fort Wayne saw explosive growth '" 23% '" from 2000 to 2010, and researchers attributed that to expanding the city's borders through annexations. The latest census figures show the effect of annexation '" and suburban growth '" on Huntertown, which saw its population increase by 90%. Blakeman said the most recent local rate is 'a healthy percentage,' and noted growth can be positive.

A burgeoning population can also lead to challenges such as finding jobs for everyone who wants or needs to live here and constructing infrastructure such as roads and water and sewer services.

Ryan Twiss, vice president of talent initiatives for Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, credited investments in businesses and public improvements with some of the growth. Those are key to continuing to see population increases, even if the partnership's goal of 1 million residents by 2030 isn't met.

'As northeast Indiana invests in itself, it's already paying off,' Twiss said. '... We've always known that they're big, audacious goals.'

It's important and necessary to carefully plan for future growth. That includes municipalities considering infrastructure upgrades and residents making their voices heard as lawmakers draw new electoral boundaries.

The new census figures are timely reminders to do both.

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Aug. 20, 2021.

Editorial: Holcomb's support boosts local efforts to keep schools running safely

Local schools in Texas - trying to protect kids, teachers and staff from a surging COVID-19 variant - have to defy their governor to take the simple, effective public-health step of having everyone mask up in the school buildings.

The same turmoil faces local schools in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned strict mask mandates in schools. Parents and schools are pushing back against those bans by DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, concerned about children congregating among unvaccinated, unmasked people as infections and hospitalizations multiply. Abbott himself tested positive on Tuesday, though he has been fully vaccinated. The large swath of unvaccinated Americans has allowed the virus to mutate and spread, again, leading to its more transmissible Delta variant, which has infected even the fully vaccinated. Americans who are vaccinated, though, rarely experience serious symptoms, and thankfully that has been the case for Abbott.

Here in Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb has handled this state's situation smartly and responsibly, unlike fellow Republican governors DeSantis and Abbott.

Holcomb voiced support for an increasing number of Indiana school districts that have instituted mask mandates, with a school year freshly started. Like Texas and Florida, Indiana is experiencing a wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, most of which involve the virus' more transmissible Delta variant.

The school districts' actions make sense. The governor has left those choices to local districts, and has not imposed mask requirements or capacity restrictions statewide. Also, state Health Commissioner Kris Box has said Indiana has no plans for a vaccine mandate, because the more ideologically driven Indiana General Assembly in April barred local and state governmental units from requiring proof of vaccinations.

When Holcomb spoke Monday on the topic, a total of 1,452 new COVID-19 cases had been recorded throughout the state in the past week, according to the Indiana Department of Health, The Associated Press reported. On top of that, 80 teachers and 118 school support staffers also tested positive for the virus. Among all Hoosiers, hospitalizations have increased to levels not seen since February, when the distribution of vaccines was still in its early stages. Hospitalizations statewide totaled 1,462 on Sunday, up 25% from the previous week, and 368 of those COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units. By Tuesday, the hospitalizations had risen to 1,517.

Pure logic - devoid of ideological fervor - would compel those school districts to act in the best interests of those who walk their halls daily.

'I think the schools that are putting mask mandates into place are making a wise decision, when the facts warrant it,' Holcomb said Monday, adding, 'I'm not surprised by the pushback, having lived through the last year and a half.'

He also urged Hoosiers to get vaccinated. Holcomb pointed out that all 137 new COVID-19 patients in ICU's were unvaccinated. Every single one. Yet, only 45% of eligible residents have received the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The governor channeled Franklin Roosevelt in appealing for more vaccinations - a process stymied by politics and misinformation on social media platforms.

'I will go as far as to say, the only thing to fear about the vaccine is fear itself,' Holcomb said. 'The numbers prove that it works.' On Wednesday, he also announced the formation of a public health commission to study healthcare needs and bolster local health departments across the state.

Holcomb's stance should encourage communities like Vigo County, where 53 new cases were reported Tuesday and rate of positive tests hit 22%. Last week, the Vigo County School Board approved the Vigo County School Corporation's reopening plan, which included a requirement of face masks indoors for grades PreK through 6, and for masking in some situations indoors for grades 7 through 12. The plan will be reviewed every two weeks. That modest plan also drew pushback, just like the more stringent school masking protocols elsewhere.

Holcomb's support bolsters local efforts to carry out a new school year for kids, with fewer of the interruptions faced in the previous school year. It will be safer and closer to normal for those children.

END

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