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Who sets agenda for public debate? All of us

Share your opinions.

That’s the simple concept behind public debate on issues large and small, important and trivial.

And the great thing about bringing many and varied ideas into the community discussion is that we’ll even have disagreement over what is large and what is small, what is important and what is trivial.

Although you have many ways to share your opinion about matters that affect you and your neighbors, none is as effective as using your local newspaper.

We facilitate discussion and debate in many ways.

But it works only if you participate.

READERS MIGHT also have noticed that “Share your opinion” is the headline on an item that usually appears in the bottom right corner of the Opinion page of this newspaper.

We offer several options: mail, email, fax and website. And the mail address is also a place you can drop off a letter if you want to deliver it in person.

Another option to express yourself is our Facebook page, which can produce dozens of local reactions within minutes of news being reported through one of our digital outlets.

Of course, you first have to be on Facebook, and to “like” our Facebook page.

We had 9,920 Facebook friends as of Friday afternoon. And there’s always room for one more if you haven’t joined.

What would be a suitable prize for the 10,000th “like” on our Facebook page?

Let us know if you think of something.

STORY COMMENTS on our website also offer readers a chance to provide immediate feedback on developing news.

That process requires you to register if you want to post comments.

As of this week, we had more than 1,600 registrations, although only a few dozen of them regularly contribute to the online discussion.

Editorial assistant Cindy Dahl also reports we have more than 1,000 “incomplete registrations.” That is, we received that many requests from people who, when we called to verify their identity, never returned our call.

What do you suppose that’s about?

MANY FOLKS WHO have something they want to contribute to the public debate want to do so anonymously.

That’s something we generally discourage as we sort through the many comments we facilitate in print, online and otherwise.

But some people fear the public airing of their thoughts would somehow cause them trouble. Maybe they fear the personal attacks that too frequently substitute for thoughtful response.

So, they remain silent, or they try to submit their ideas anonymously.

The editor this week cleared out a stack of several letters that had arrived in recent months via U.S. Postal Service with no signature and no return address.

Although none of them were published, ideas and questions from some were followed up by reporters for possible news stories. Others made their way into this column as the editor tried to address readers’ concerns about ... well, a lot of things involving the newspaper and the community.

A citizen’s reluctance to step forward shouldn’t kill a good idea or a good question.

You never know where you might find truth.

AMONG THE VOICES in public debate is that of the newspaper.

Our editorial board offers its ideas several times a week under a label of “Editorial.” For readers who don’t want to slog their way through the entire editorial, we summarize our opinion in a couple of sentences titled “What we think.”

We want to make it easy for you to know what we’re thinking.

That’s part of a newspaper’s responsibility to stimulate public discussion and to set the agenda for local debate.

You can do the same thing. In fact, research shows greater public interest in the “voice of the reader” than in the “voice of the newspaper.”

That’s fine. We take no offense.

YOU CAN AGREE, disagree or just not care about the newspaper’s opinion. Your choice.

You can give it serious consideration or dismiss it outright. That usually depends on whether you agree with it.

A Dixon city commissioner acknowledged this newspaper’s opinion during a recent council discussion on whether to allow citizens to vote on keeping or scrapping the commission form of government. We had said the council should decide now to have a referendum in 2014.

“Regardless of what the editorial board of the newspaper says, we need to be methodical and get feedback from the community,” the commissioner said during a public meeting.

For the record, this newspaper didn’t just recently decide to editorialize on problems it sees with a commission government.

In April 2012, just days after Rita Crundwell was arrested in connection with that $54 million theft, we observed that among the few good things to come from the investigation was that “a vulnerability of the city’s commission style of government has been exposed, ...”

A couple of weeks later, we published an editorial titled, “Put commission government out of commission.”

Maybe not everyone has been thinking about this matter in the nearly 16 months since the FBI escorted Crundwell from City Hall in handcuffs.

But we have.

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