Who had burden?

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In response to the public outcry over the decision to collect a $200 garbage fee to balance the budget, Southampton County supervisors voted Monday to delay the collection of this new fee until March 31.

The chief complaints that led to the delay were people were either unaware of the due date, deadline to file for an exemption, or unaware of the fee.

Supervisors held several meetings where the fee was discussed and debated, the appropriate legal notices were published on the county’s website and The Tidewater News published no fewer than a dozen stories, columns, letters and editorials on the hotly debated subject.

The topic was in the public domain for months, yet many feel they were not properly notified. Which leads to an interesting question; to whom does the burden fall for keeping the public informed of issues facing the community?

Never before has the citizenry of this country had access to the information available today. The 24-hour news channels, the Internet, social media, newspapers and radio provide as much information as anyone could possibly need.

Which perhaps begs another question; should accommodations be made for those who, with so much information available, choose not to inform themselves?

The U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services lists nine basic responsibilities of citizenship. Second is the admonition to “stay informed of the issues affecting your community.”

It does not list as a right of citizenship that the government spoon-feed information.

Could supervisors have taken further steps to ensure that residents were better informed regarding the new fee assessment? Perhaps. Billboards could have been purchased. Skywriters could have been hired. Town hall meetings could have been arranged.

But if the amount of information made available to the public went unrecognized by those who are pleading ignorance, we suspect additional measures would have gone unnoticed as well.

Benjamin Franklin once said “A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

As to the question of who bears the burden of keeping the public informed, it’s difficult to imagine Ben would have had much sympathy for those who plead ignorance. As to whether concessions should be made for those who do, the Board of Supervisors has clearly answered in the affirmative.