Kelly Gerlach

Kelly Gerlach

Where do you get your information? 

No, not the Hollywood gossip or national news, but your local news of interest?

I promise this column is not an ad promoting the newspaper; it’s a simple request for information.

Where do you, Jackson County residents, turn to learn what is happening in local government, the school district, the hospital, and for information about births, deaths, county supervisors, athletics, etc.?

I frequently hear locals say that they never heard such-and-such an event was happening, this new ordinance was on the books, that special election was happening, whatever the situation is.

When voters went to the polls in August 2019 to try for a second time to pass a bond measure to build a new county jail, many county residents said they didn’t know the election was happening. The jail — what’s wrong with the jail? There’s a problem?

Well, discussion about the county jail not passing state inspections and the need to either overhaul the existing facility or build a new one has been taking place in the public eye for more than three years. There have been monthly jail advisory meetings, two failed bond votes, numerous letters to the editor and many articles published, multiple interviews on KMAQ along with comments on call-in shows, videos and meetings for public viewing on the local cable access station, jail meetings in each town in the county, multiple jail tours, county supervisors meetings, even a website with plans, meeting minutes and conceptual drawings. 

Or, on another recent topic, the Maquoketa City Council has taken some flack for its decision to implement a citywide curbside garbage and recycling hauling program in the city, which goes into effect toward the end of August. Again, many residents now say they knew nothing about the plan, and are outraged that the city would do something like this without asking residents for their opinion.

Well, the city began talks, in open-to-the-public meetings, about the program early this year, when Imagine the Possibilities announced its plans to discontinue its free recycling program. Something had to be done. Subcommittees talked about it during multiple public meetings, there were news articles and letters to the editor, radio interviews, with information and updates on the city’s website and Facebook. 

Now, I fully understand that the coronavirus pandemic has kept some people from attending public meetings — most of which still are being held via digital technology as a means to limit the spread. However, those meetings still are open to the public, in which you can watch and interact with government officials and other leaders. 

Spreading the word has become more difficult in this pandemic, as the usually popular word-of-mouth technique becomes more trying with masks and social distancing and many people staying home. It’s one of the reasons the Jackson County Board of Supervisors last week informally decided to hold off a third jail bond referendum vote until next year; two supervisors did not think the board had enough time or even the ability to market the new jail plan in the midst of the pandemic.

However, opportunities to stay informed still exist.

So I come back to my original question: How do YOU stay informed?

Or perhaps the better questions is: What communication method would appease you?

Do you want mass mailings in your mailbox when an issue comes up? 

Would you prefer a phone call? I know the school district has an automated setup by which it sends specific messages to district patrons. Maybe it’s something worth looking into. 

Do you want the people in-the-know to go door-to-door to tell you about whatever the issue is? Well, even I have to say that’s pretty impractical and extremely costly. You’d have to pay people to go door-to-door, deal with inclement weather and the virus, and hope to catch every resident at home. Yeah, that’s not necessarily a good option.

This column is not meant to be facetious. It’s simply a call to not settle for being ignorant or claiming ignorance when it comes to what is happening in the community. We must take responsibility to educate ourselves on matters that are important to us or that make us more well-rounded individuals.

So how do you stay informed about local happenings? And how can your hometown newspaper, schools, and governments help to inform you? Let us know, because claiming ignorance solves nothing. Being proactive does.