Councilman suggests ways to reduce political apathy | Paterson Times Paterson Times

Councilman suggests ways to reduce political apathy

By Jayed Rahman
Published: February 9, 2014


Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, suggests the city change the way its public notices in newspaper present information to the public; and he recommends newspapers slightly adjust the way local political news is covered by adding extra information that informs readers of where the issue is being discussed.

“We’re talking about size nine font,” said Tavarez, during his presentation at the council chamber on Tuesday, referring to tiny type currently used in newspaper notices.

“It’s difficult, terribly difficult to read,” said William McKoy, the 3rd Ward councilman, agreeing with Tavarez’s statement.

Julio Tavarez, the 5th Ward councilman.

Julio Tavarez, the 5th Ward councilman.

Tavarez wants the city to change the font size to twelve, publish only titles and summaries of ordinances, and include a graphic icon, whenever it publishes an advertisement in the city’s designated newspaper.

“I think more people will be engaged if we present the information in a fashion they’re accustomed to reading,” said Kenneth McDaniel, councilman at-large. McDaniel volunteered to help put together a new layout that would make information easier to read for laymen.

“State law mandates that we put the summary,” said Tavarez. “We put the whole thing, the whole report, the whole ordinance.” Placing the entire ordinance in the newspaper in small fonts discourage readership and civic participation, according to Tavarez.

“Wouldn’t we be giving them less information?” asked Charles Thomas, the city’s business administrator. Thomas stated that printing summary and title would be providing less information, and it would be burdening individuals already accustomed to reading ordinances in the newspaper to call the clerk’s office or go to a website for the complete document.

Tavarez responded that it may be less, but it will be relevant information that residents can read, understand, and act upon, rather than squinting through a lengthy technical piece as is presently the case.

McKoy wanted to know how the translation process would work to take a specialized document and convert it into a summary that an everyday person can read and understand. “The danger I see is how does this get translated to what it is to summary and picture,” said McKoy. “It’s a technical document every word and every comma means something.”

Jane Williams, the city’s clerk, expressed her reservation at the idea.

Tavarez, whose presentation included a video by a Canadian activist, thinks political apathy is wrongly defined. “Apathy as we know it doesn’t exist,” uttered Dave Meslin, a Canadian community organizer, in a video Tavarez played during the meeting. Meslin believes the manner in which newspapers and cities disseminate information has something to do with apathy. He cites articles showing difference in coverage between entertainment and political events.

When a newspaper publishes a restaurant review it includes the address and website of the restaurant, according to Meslin. When a newspaper publishes a political story it neglects to mention anything more than the story. Tavarez said he observed the same while reading the Record, where restaurants have addresses and phone numbers and website names on the paper before the article starts, no such thing exists for political stories.

Tavarez, said his second piece is, “Encouraging the media to provide the same information that they would provide if it was a review for a movie, for a restaurant, or for a show.” Tavarez hopes newspapers would, when covering elections, provide inside the article contact information for candidates. If the article is about an important issue, the paper should include time and location of where the issue is being discussed.

“We are asking the media to say: Hey, we want people to know what’s happening and to be engaged,” said Tavarez. “We would like you to follow the same process you’re already following for these other entertainment events for when it has to do with the political process.” A resolution would be sent to all newspapers that receive notifications from the clerk’s office asking each to include more information in their articles.

“Clearly, we want more people to be involved in civic affairs,” said Andre Sayegh. “Also transparency — very important.”

McKoy, somewhat skeptical of the idea, wanted the city to take the idea to the League of Municipalities, a once a year event where officials from every town descend to Atlantic City. Tavarez said he would like to implement the idea, and then take it to the league to have other cities imitate this city’s success.

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