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Local government officials call for end to Hotline

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Editor’s note: This letter was signed by the mayor and city manager of Galax, and the supervisors’ chairmen and county administrators for Carroll and Grayson counties. The original letter of 491 words was reduced to meet the 350-word limit policy for letters to the editor.

We were pleased to have read the Oct. 13 editorial, “Abolishing the Rumor Mill,” and agree that proliferation of social media has raised the level of misinformation and negativity to a point where legitimate concerns and issues sometimes take a back seat.

In our collective opinion, this editorial perspective may also apply to the medium referred to as the Hotline.

While we in local government strive to provide services to citizens and address their concerns, we must prioritize our response based on health and safety, resources, and time frame needed to address the issue.

A citizen that cares enough about an issue to contact their local government or school system deserves a timely answer, even if it’s not the answer they hope to receive.

The Hotline, which registers anonymous comments and complaints, is not an effective method to express a concern or complaint to local government, when respective staff does not have an opportunity to directly review, investigate or respond to the purported matter.

The most effective way to connect with our local governments is by directly contacting the appropriate locality, department or individual.

In order to ensure that this communication channel is fostered, we feel it imperative for the City of Galax, County of Carroll and the County of Grayson to no longer provide responses to The Gazette in reference to Hotline calls.

We feel that responding to unqualified comments or complaints brought forth under the veil of anonymity only serves to perpetuate this disservice to our community.

Governments, authorities and commissions of the Twin Counties wish to work hand in hand with The Gazette to inform, educate and serve the public and we value the relationship we have with The Gazette and its staff.

We feel strongly that both the community and The Gazette would be better served if the Hotline was discontinued altogether and perhaps the editorial section be expanded to accommodate more serious opinions, comments and concerns.

We respectfully request that you help encourage citizens to contact their respective local government administrators if they have an item of concern or if we may be of assistance.

The Gazette’s View:

The Gazette takes the position that the Readers’ Hotline serves a useful purpose and stimulates a community conversation. It gets results, as we know from many private testimonials expressed to us through the years.

The Hotline is no different in principle from many U.S. newspapers that allow readers to post online comments in forums or at the end of stories while remaining anonymous or using a nickname — see the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Dallas Morning News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Baltimore Sun, just to name a few.

As a matter of clarification, not all Hotline calls received are published by The Gazette. They must meet standards. And, yes, the comments sometimes put officials and entities of government on the hot seat — and does the same to the newspaper, as well.

We disagree with our government leaders who find no purpose in addressing concerns and questions raised by readers through Hotline calls — calls which often prompt our reporters to ask officials for comment or lead to broader coverage of a worthy point raised by readers.

Respectfully, it seems at odds to us that public officials would take a stance that turns away from clarifying legitimate calls and questions from the public they serve.

What do you think?
Agree? Disagree? We want to hear your opinions. (Letters must be signed.)
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