Newspaper coverage of public meetings is essential no matter how drowsy they make you

by Ryan Collins, Editor
The first meetings such as a school board and city council are always the best for me to cover. You can always tell a tremendous amount about the modus operandi of a board or that of a city in the process of that first meeting, but you must resist the urge to fall asleep due to extreme boredom.
After all, that’s why most people don’t go to public meetings that often. They’re just not that entertaining. But they are incredibly informative, and most of the new things happening in a community will make their way through the gauntlet of a public meeting.
For newspaper coverage, public meetings are an essential part of the entire picture. Everyone covers them differently, and I can tell you from experience that public meeting articles are not the most well read and they are not the most exciting copy, but they are the bread and butter of local news coverage.
You don’t get the entire picture all at once, but you get a feel for how things are handled and debated, along with the essential introductions at the first meetings.
It’s a stark contrast to see how different areas, counties, and states function within their local governments. I was impressed with the way the Blanding City Council and the San Juan School Board functioned at my first public meetings in the county during the same evening.
There was thoughtful debate in both meetings I was able to attend last week, and it seemed to me the board and council had the genuine best interest of the communities they serve in mind while pondering any decision thy were going to make.
I was particularly impressed with the way the city and the school board showed a vested interest in the sake of future prospective growth.
It was exciting to be in a public meeting for the first time in over a year where there was genuine hope for the future and the prospect of growth. But I did sense an underlying fear of that growth itself. I can relate to that, considering my home state of Colorado has been overrun with millions of new residents, spiking living costs, and pricing out locals.   
My first official public meeting in San Juan County was the San Juan School Board monthly meeting October 9 in Blanding. After three San Juan Sweet Job awards were given out to Travis Black, Sara Monson and Nichole Cordova, I was left alone with the board and Superintendent Ron T. Nielson at the meeting.
I made a nervous introduction and informed the board I would be the one bothering them from now on from the paper. The board thanked me for coming and then continued on with the agenda at hand.
The topic of discussion eventually moved to that of the Community Reinvestment Agency (CRA), which was a continued discussion as many readers know.
It’s a complex subject, and it is my understanding that the definition of what a CRA actually is has been under debate. Here is my understanding of exactly what a CRA is as it has been explained to me by those who know much more on the subject:
The Community Reinvestment Agency would give agencies the ability to receive up to 75 percent of their property taxes refunded from individual taxing entities on a new qualifying structure or project over the course of up to 20 years.
The San Juan County Economic Development Director defined CRAs in the May 2 edition of the San Juan Record as:
 • Separate legal entity, comprised of our County Commissioners 
• Economic Development Tool 
• Primarily used to provide tax increment investment 
How does tax increment work? 
• CRA creates a project area 
• Provides tax increment for a period of time, usually a maximum of 75 percent for 20 years. 
How can tax increment be used? 
• Reimburse horizontal infrastructure
•Reimburse development costs 
• Buy or buydown land 
• Provide direct development incentives 
•Public Infrastructure 
What is the approval process? 
• Find project: developer request or county driven 
• Adopt survey resolution which includes area’s boundaries 
• Draft a project area plan and budget 
• Hold a public hearing 
• Negotiate interlocal agreements with taxing entities  
• Negotiate participation agreement with developer
The school board attempted to “hammer out” their requirements for successful applicants, such as a rubric that grades all prospective investors.
“We’ve just been working on developing a framework for making a future decision regarding CRAs,” Superintendent Ron Nielson said. “We’ve got to get that framework in place before we start.”
Nielson said the board was scheduled to discuss the agenda item last meeting, but they did not have all the required documents needed to discuss the CRAs in detail.
This meeting, the board had all the required documents and had a lengthy discussion regarding CRAs, with some progress being made in the form of the criteria needed for a successful CRA. The board will perpetuate the CRA discussion at their next meeting on Nov. 13 at Monticello High School. 
It’s important discussions like the one the school board had that make public meetings essential for newspaper coverage. Sometimes the subjects discussed are robustly complex, like the CRA issue.
Some are more simple and it’s easier to arrive on a concise decision in meetings. It’s what makes public meeting coverage essential for a community newspaper, and it just so happens that some weird nuance in the universe has instilled in me a love of these meetings.
I know it’s weird, but there’s just something about a nice long meeting that draws me in. 
I look forward to attending as many meetings as possible in the future for the paper and my own personal enjoyment. I solemnly promise I will try and keep them as long and insightful as possible for those of you out there who may have insomnia. 

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday