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Column: WCPC makes referendum debate personal

There is no doubt in my mind that much could be said about the heated climate surrounding the upcoming District 518 bond referendum.

For months, you wouldn’t hear me say much, and for good reason. That changed late last week, when I felt like I was personally brought into the “Yes” vs. “No” arena by the Worthington Citizens for Progress campaign.

The “Vote NO” group posted a graph recounting a historic look at Globe subscriptions. While the intent of the post was not explicitly clear, many who closely follow the debate understood it was a response to an editorial published in the Jan. 24 edition of The Globe.

While it was unfortunate to see, it didn’t require a response. However, a follow-up comment really ground my gears, for parts of it were absurd, unfair and — quite frankly — a lie.

The five-paragraph comment posted Jan. 26 by the Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee recounts a sporadic timeline and various specific events. I do not have full knowledge of all they recount, for I joined The Globe in July 2017. However, while I’m not called out by name, the comment’s first paragraph is very personal to me.

A segment of the comment reads: “... more recently (The Globe) did an opinion page attack piece on us (and by default the many taxpayers who we speak for); and then trying to appear all objective they send a reporter to us and pretend like they want to do a ‘straight forward’ story representing our side. Sorry, but the trust factor is gone!”

Let it be clear: It is neither my duty nor responsibility to defend or make comments on behalf of my employer. However, I do have the right and will defend my journalistic integrity.

For the sake of brevity, I and WCPC executive committee members had confirmed a time for an interview last week, but they canceled about an hour before, citing the editorial — which was written without my involvement in any way. The phone call informing me of the decision was fairly polite and respectful.   

However, to then read their altered rendition of the timeline really took the cake.

My numerous attempts to connect and schedule an interview began long before the Globe editorial hit the press (or was even written). It would be unfair of me to expect an instant response, but scheduling an interview with them took more than a week and a half. Therefore, to say The Globe sent a reporter to appear objective is absolutely absurd and abhorrent. I know it and they know it.

Their desire to be heard is valid and fair, but reporting their perspective becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible, if they are not willing to share it. That offer remains open, and will likely always remain open.

The WCPC also noted on social media it “has attended far more school board meetings and work sessions the last 13 months than either media outlet has. In many regards, they don’t know what’s going on because they don’t bother to cover matters leading up to such a wasteful proposal.”

I acknowledge their time frame does not coincide with the duration for which I’ve been an education beat reporter with The Globe, but I find this statement misleading and an unfair testament to the six-plus months I have been here.

Since I assumed my role in July, I haven’t missed a single regular school board meeting (which takes place the third Tuesday of every month). I’ve also attended countless committee meetings (which take place the Monday and Tuesday the week prior to the regular meeting), special board meetings and work sessions. WCPC executive committee members have also been in attendance.

It makes me uncomfortable to write this, as it may ostracize me from residents of this community and open me up to further criticism. However, it makes me far more uneasy to sit silent.

In weighing my decision to address this issue, I decided reflection and writing a column was a better avenue than posting comments directly on the social media post in the heat of the moment. I’m not convinced my comments would have remained available for all to see, anyway, as I suspect the committee vastly censors discussion so only comments left unhidden affirm or support their agenda.  

I understand the passion with which people speak on this issue, and I do not condemn either side for their stance. However, I am disheartened the community has allowed this issue to divide itself to a point where residents no longer view their acquaintances, friends and neighbors the same, but instead label them merely as someone who is for or against the referendum.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka