Geoff Folsom

Geoff Folsom

Recently, I was confronted at a local event over a story I wrote in late September. The story detailed the emails and messages Franklin County commissioners received regarding their approval of a resolution opposing President Joe Biden’s directive for vaccine mandates for companies with more than 100 employees.

The Missouri Sunshine Law allows, with limited exceptions, the public to request information from meetings, as well as records of other correspondences such as emails, letters and phone calls.

The person who berated me (who, of course, sent one of the emails) didn’t like that we used a Sunshine request to obtain the emails, thinking it wasn’t an important use of the law.

I’m usually not good explaining myself when someone comes out of nowhere, so I probably didn’t do the greatest job defending myself.

So I wanted to take a minute to go over why it was an important use of this valuable law.

As I’m sure you know, COVID-19 has killed more than 700,000 people in the U.S., including around one in every 500 Franklin County residents. That’s a very big, very serious deal.

Vaccines have been proven to be the most safe, effective way to deal with the virus.

As more companies and governments began requiring vaccines, we saw the number of Americans getting their first vaccine shot increase for six consecutive days late in September, according to CBS News. That was the first time an increase in vaccines like that had been recorded in nearly two months.

The number of daily cases and deaths also has been declining, a trend that will, hopefully, continue.

So people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is an important issue — possibly the most important of my lifetime. Say what you want about the county commission’s decision to oppose vaccine mandates, but there is certainly interest in the input that went into that decision.

So we decided to request emails and other messages commissioners have received on the topic.

And Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker pretty much invited people to look more into the feedback the commission received before the decision.

“I can say maybe four or five words of one message I got. The rest is just expletives,” Brinker said at the Sept. 14 meeting, during which the resolution to oppose vaccine mandates for businesses with 100 or more employees was unanimously approved. “It’s not proper in this climate, in this country and especially this county.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to find out exactly what the commissioners were told.

Brinker did indeed get one voicemail that was pretty vulgar. Brinker called the woman, a St. Louis County resident, back. She then told him, “I’m so sick of you Missouri meth-head morons spreading your stupid trash. Got it?”

She then hung up.

About the most insulting thing in the emails was the commissioners being called “country bumpkins,” though a nurse did write haunting words about her hoping they never have to go through what some of the families that have lost people to COVID-19 have gone through.

I don’t agree with people calling commissioners names in the first place, whether or not you agree with them. Everyone should be more civil. Thankfully, most people around here are, on both sides of the political divide.

And the commissioners aren’t bumpkins. I think their decision was a political one and probably smart at fending off future primary challenges. Although I don’t agree with their proclamation against vaccine mandates, they did at least include language encouraging people to get vaccinated.

So now that we’ve established that vaccine mandates are an important issue, it’s a good idea to make sure we hear from as many different people who contacted the commissioners as possible, because you only get part of the perspective from people who speak at commission meetings. That’s especially true of an issue like COVID-19, as some people would rather not speak in potentially crowded and charged-up meetings. Judging by the applause, most of the audience at the meeting where commissioners voted against a vaccine mandate supported the commissioners’ decision.

The Sunshine request revealed a much more divided community. The number of people for and against the resolution was close, and comments on the county’s Facebook page were largely against the resolution.

Although they might not say it, I think most people want their opinion to get out there if they take the time to message a public official.

It’s similar to speaking at a public meeting. I covered a Union Planning and Zoning Commission meeting a few months back where a man gave information about the business he was starting, where he got financing, why he was starting it — all the stuff we like to include in stories.

He came back a couple weeks later and complained about me using the information in a story despite the fact that he gave the details at a public meeting.

Ultimately, it helps everyone when people have interactions with public officials, whether it be at meetings, though emails or at town halls (which we need to have more of in Missouri). Just be aware that when you step up to that microphone, whether there’s two or 200 people in attendance, you potentially are speaking to an even bigger audience.