The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

February 17, 2014

Carol Stark: Letters allow readers to be part of the debate

— In the days following the 2011 tornado, letters to our newspaper conveyed the anguish of our readers and the heartfelt concern of the nation.

From the painful descriptions of horror and loss to the contrasting scribbles of a child offering up prayers and pennies for Joplin, letters filled the Globe’s editorial pages for the whole world to see. In fact, I would imagine historians will use those letters in some way to document the effects of one of the most devastating tornadoes in U.S. history.

Today, we’re approaching the three-year anniversary of that tornado, and letters, columns and social media comments reflect a storm of another kind, specifically a turmoil that started earlier this summer and has now erupted as the result of an outside investigation ordered by the council to answer ethics questions that had been raised. That investigation then took another turn, and at the end of the Feb. 4 council meeting — more than four hours of that held behind closed doors — City Manager Mark Rohr was fired.

The action has resulted in letters and columns expressing frustration and, in general, criticism of five members of the Joplin City Council who voted for the firing. As of 8 p.m. Friday night, the Globe had not received any written or emailed letters supporting Rohr’s firing. Comments left on our Facebook page, however, carry a different tenor, and we have published a sampling of those left on stories posted on our page. You can find those on page 1D. If you are familiar with Facebook, you will know that comments often turn into discussion threads that take on a life of their own. If you haven’t already gone to our page, I would invite you to take a look for yourself.

Two letters we have published both asked about our readers who might have different viewpoints. Here’s what one writer had to say:

“Judging from the recent letters to the editor in the Globe, one would think the whole town of Joplin has joined the public outcry over the Joplin City Council’s vote to fire City Manager Mark Rohr.

“There were at least seven letters supporting Rohr in Sunday’s edition (Feb. 9) alone and not one letter supporting the council’s vote. I have trouble believing that the citizens of Joplin as a whole are as united in their support of Rohr and in their condemnation of the council’s action as these letters might suggest.”

The writer ends the letter with: “It does make one wonder whether the public outcry against the council’s action is nearly as great as the avalanche of letters to the editor would indicate.”

I would encourage you to make your viewpoints known in what has clearly become a public debate.

Letters should be about 300 words, although yours won’t be kicked out if it is a little longer. If you would like to write a guest column, we would encourage you to send along a photo of yourself. But as you can see on this very page, that won’t prevent your viewpoints from being published.

We reserve the right to edit for clarity and good taste. You may send your letters to me at the address or email included at the end of this column.

And with spring elections coming, now would be a good time to remind you that we will accept letters endorsing issues or candidates.

To make sure your viewpoints are published, please attach a phone number, and make sure you tell us where you are from. We verify letters and sometimes we may have a question to ask. We will not publish your phone number or your specific street address.

The cutoff date for letters pertaining to the election will be April 4. Call it a cooling off period before the April 8 election.

While letters may or may not be an absolute indicator of public opinion as a whole, one thing’s for sure: They remain an excellent way to say what’s on your mind.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email cstark@joplinglobe.com.

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