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Lost in legalese and rhetoric

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By Carolyn Risner

For years we have pointed fingers at the residents of cities and counties for not being more proactive in local government.

Apathy is often blamed as the reason people don't get involved in what's happening in their communities.

While that may be true in part, I think another reason may be it's just too darn confusing for the average person who has to sit and sift and then leave wondering, "What happened in there?"

It's been a while since I covered a Chiefland Commission meeting. About 18 months, in fact.

As I sat through three hours of agenda items Monday night, I couldn't help but shake my head.

Phrases like concurrency, proportionate share mitigation and EAR based amendments flew liberally from the mouths of officials and speakers.

And I was confused.

Me. College-educated. A veteran government reporter for almost 20 years.

So if I have a hard time following the jargon that clouds government meetings, can you imagine what it must be like for Average Joe Laborer who maybe graduated high school and barely has time for the evening news?

I can't help wonder if all the legalese and political rhetoric are meant to serve as deterrents for questioning citizens.

If you keep them confused with doublespeak, then maybe they won't be so apt to question decisions made on their behalf.

Fortunately for the citizens of Chiefland this past Monday night, one or two commissioners actually slowed down the pace and repeated statements or asked for clarifcation.

Whether it was for their own edification or the limited public or a combination thereof is anyone's guess.

However, it was appreciated.

Perhaps it's past time that government leaders learn how to "dumb down" the intricacies of government so the average resident can comprehend what is taking place.

If they want to talk to each other in terminology that only political scientists can understand, that's fine. But when they actually get into an open forum, how about putting these complex thoughts and ideas into language the majority can understand?

As journalists, we're told in coaching seminars to keep the jargon out of the stories. Make it simple. Make it so people can understand.

Clearer writing for the masses will come if the agencies we cover will learn to simplify their actions.

And if we can agree on this point, then all the people can be served.

Wouldn't it be nice to attend a meeting where the information was distributed in conversation form instead of multi-syllable words that serve only to impress the Phds in the audience?

Ah, a reporter can dream, can't she?

You can comment on this article online at www.chieflandcitizen.com.