Speaking Personally

How we're organizing the collector debate and why
I won’t protect either candidate, but I will protect the structure of this event. By all means, let it be lively. But it will not be disorderly or disrespectful.
As many of my readers know, local government is my passion. I have used this column more than once to exhort you to vote in local elections and to learn more about the candidates seeking office. In pursuit of this passion, on Thursday, Oct. 20, Howell County News will host a public debate between the candidates for Howell County Collector at 6:00 p.m. in Dogwood Rooms 1 &2 at the West Plains Civic Center.
In my experience, robust public interest in a county election race is rare. A lot of public officials run unopposed term after term. Not so this election season: my readers have proven to have a huge appetite for information about the contenders for Howell County Collector: Republican Mark Collins and Independent Janet Crow.
I have, however, received a fair amount of criticism about the way I am organizing the debate, so allow me to explain.
Questions on the night of the debate
Instead of passing a microphone around the night of the debate, we are having folks write down their questions on index cards to be read by me, the moderator. Honestly, some people seem to hate this. But I’m here to defend it.
The keen interest in this race is so exciting, but if the event is successful, undecided voters will get the information they need to make a decision, and committed voters should feel confident in their choice.
Based on the vitriol I have observed in this election, the event could derail quickly without structure and an unflinching moderator. Just last month, I attended an unmoderated public meeting on a proposed scenic byway that ended in shouted personal attacks against the speaker. People actually yelled, “good riddance” at this man as he gathered his things to leave. Nothing of the sort will happen on my watch on Thursday.
If you have never seen me moderate an event like this, I’m asking you to trust me. If you’re a regular reader, you know I don’t shy away from asking hard questions. Chances are, if you submit a question for this debate, I will ask it. Chances are, several other people have submitted the same question. 
I won’t protect either candidate, but I will protect the structure of this event. By all means, let it be lively. But it will not be disorderly or disrespectful. Anyone attempting to disrupt the event will be asked to leave.
Advance questions submitted to candidates
We have been gathering advance questions from readers for several weeks. Two weeks ago, I submitted a sampling of these reader questions, along with my own questions, to both candidates. I chose to do so to allow the candidates to preview the public’s tone at the event. The tone is volatile. 
Submitting advance questions to the candidates was my idea. In my professional opinion, advance preparation for the public’s attitude gives neither candidate an unfair advantage. It will ultimately be the best for the voters.
This news outlet, as an impartial third party, has been able to communicate to both Crow and Collins what the voters care about the most. Just as a preview: people seem to care the most about the lawsuit that kicked off the campaign and the contracts with municipalities that increase the collector’s salary. 
Not a policymaking position
County Collector is not a policymaking position. Unlike, for example, a commissioner’s position, the Collector’s job is almost entirely ruled by statute. However, I have never seen such lively interest in a local race. If I were to host a debate for any other local election, who would show up? 
This race started with a lawsuit. It is a contest between an established public official and new blood in government. These are flashy concepts that people care about. 
If you have a question, we are still accepting them in advance. Email editor@howellcountynews.com to submit a question. Please join us the night of the debate. You may also submit a question Thursday night. Use this event as a way to tell people in power what you care about.
Then get out and vote Nov. 8.
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