Letters to the editor and the greater conversation

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
UTMikeColLogoWe get letters and then sometimes, we get letters.

Some praise the acts of others (once in a while, even us), some take various public and elected officials to task (including us). All of them have one thing in common: they represent the opinion of our readers (you’ll note by looking just above the headline, on this column, the word ‘opinion,’ denoting the section, appears). None, even this piece, should be taken as the literal truth — and certainly none have been fact-checked or vetted for accuracy (how does one check for accurate opinions?).

I know this policy does vary with some other local publications, which do edit letters (or not run them at all, to the ongoing frustration of many who feel their voices are repeatedly quashed). As with our comment section (which also has had its share of shall we say, interesting, exchanges) we don’t stifle opinion. There are a few exceptions, hate speech and the such, but rarely (if ever) have we been forced to decline to run a letter. This is one of the perks of having an all-digital platform with virtually unlimited space.

Monday night at the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education meeting, the question came up of whether we should have run Bruce Yelton’s Letter To The Editor this past Saturday and whether we should have offered it prior to publication to the school district for vetting and response.

That suggestion prompted me to have to formally speak at a board meeting for the first time in nearly four years of covering that body, an action I find disagreeable. Not because I hate speaking in public (actually, I love doing it — I’m a total ham, and it was about the only thing in politics I was any good at), but because a reporter should not participate in meetings that he or she covers.

While I had no concerns whatsoever with board members criticizing the the letter — I was forced to take issue with both the idea of spiking the letter or running it by the school administration for approval/fact check.

Not running the letter from a long-time and close observer of the school district – Yelton has many times been the lone resident in the audience at board meetings — was never an option for us.

As for seeking prior review by a local public body, that strikes us as totally inappropriate. While it certainly would be a tidier way to do things, and keep controversy and dispute to a minimum, it isn’t the American way — democracy by its very nature is messy.

In my comments to the board, I asked if  Mr. Yelton had read his letter at the microphone at the meeting, whether he would have been stopped mid-sentence and led from the room. Obviously not.

We can’t deny people the right to express their opinion, even if we strongly disagree with their interpretation of the facts. Often — as students of the Kurasawa film Rashomon know — the facts of any situation can be a matter of perspective.

On that basis, we feel strongly that more perspectives — even if some of them fall outside the conventional wisdom — do add an important piece to the ongoing community conversation and that each voice, even the discordant ones, adds to the mosaic that helps create a shared understanding. Not to mention that there are times when the one voice in the wilderness turns out to be right and the majority, wrong.

We welcome rebuttals, corrections, arguments and complaints — even if they point out that we’ve messed up. We will, and have, run them without hesitation.

In order to better facilitate a clear understanding of what you’re reading and where, in the coming days on all of our Times’ sites, we will be defining our Letters To The Editor policy and reminding readers that such letters are strictly the opinion of the writer and do not represent the opinion or endorsement of this publication.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

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2 Comments

  1. TE Resident says:

    I too am in agreement with Mr. McGann, Mr. Yelton and Martha T. Clearly Mr. Yelton followed the direction of Mr. Sanville, filed a RTK, and then was denied before being blamed, name called and maligned by the Board. Mr. Yelton is a tax paying citizen who attends Board meetings and he is being treated like this? It is unacceptable. It is no wonder more citizens do not speak up. We are bullied and intimidated if we do.

    Mr. Knauss double talks citizens in TE too. Just read his latest comments on the Community Matters site in Tredyffrin Township. He gives comments to citizens which give the appearance that he wants help them in the outsourcing of our beloved aides and paras, yet he works hard in his district to do just the opposite. Please read about his suggestions for keeping aides and paras. Hopefully he’ll advocate for your aides and paras the way he advocates for ours.

    Mr. Yelton’s comments are warranted, have merit, are logical, responsible and very persuasive.

    Thank-you Mr. McGann, Mr. Yelton and Martha T. for your courage in coming forward. We need more citizens with your strength and courage.

  2. MarthaT says:

    I am in total agreement with Mr Yelton and Mr McGann. Yelton was correct in questioning the status of the student attending without residency. This “deal” affects ALL taxpayers in the district. Why am I paying more so some kid from outside the district can be here? No tuition students are allowed period.
    Over the years this issue has come up at committee meetings, sporting events, and community activities. Is this one a resident? Do they really live in Delaware or another district? Who is checking this issue? Certainly not the state of PA due to the number of Delawarae auto licenses I see going into the schools everyday. Where do these people claim as their residence on their taxes? Certainly Mrs. Manzone was doing her job to check this question. This board made her out to be a kook. She is not. If someone like her sees what is happening on the inside and can’t do anything about it – then what do we do as taxpayers? Hurray for Yelton not letting this drop.
    Frankly I am so surprised that the community of UCF just let this drop and didn’t demand answers.
    I find it ironic that Dr. Sanville was awarded a $30,000 raise after his fumbling of this situation. Tell us the truth.
    So speaking of his raise, how is it that we must outsource our support staff positions because of being financially tight? The positions of these hard workers should not be held hostage to give him a fat raise. Monday night the support staff will be addressed by the district office folks to talk about their positions and salary. Mr. McGann I hope you can attend and report the events of that meeting to the public.
    So when the next teachers contract is due for negotiation will the teachers be offered a 20% raise with index percents for each year.
    As John Stossel says: “Give me a break”

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