In the Internet age, two truths have emerged; First, it is more important to be first than to be right. Second, because of the sheer volume of opinions spread across the spectrum, only the most extreme voices are heard.
It is that second truth that is the subject of this column.
Reasoned, logical arguments are lost in the hysteria of conspiracy theories. Only the most rabid can set themselves apart from the sea of bloggers.
In Elgin, a group, which has named itself OCTAVE has taken an adverse position to the city's financial plans and structure. Among other things, OCTAVE opposes the city's business tax.
Opposition is necessary for government to function properly. Questioning a financial plan and offering opposition to what is perceived to be an unjust tax is an appropriate activity.
The business tax was a somewhat capricious attempt to fund the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Neighborhood Association by taxing the businesses that they serve. The tax can run from $35 for a very small business to $595 for a large one. The city estimates the average business pays $130. (For 2012, the city reduced the chamber's funding to $275,000 from $400,000, and the DNA has chosen to fund itself through the downtown tax increment financing district.)
Business owners feel this tax is unfair in that many businesses don't pay, there is limited enforcement and because they should not be taxed to support a community agency.
They are right.
Forcing the business community to support the chamber _ many of who already pay it dues _ is like taxing the grocery stores to support the food pantry.
You can decide for yourself if the Chamber is a vital institution worthy of public support. But forced business contributions is not the right way to do it, particularly when only about half the businesses in town pay the tax.
And what do you do when someone doesn't pay? Fine them heavily? Revoke their business license? Would we really shut down a hospital or a large local employer over a small fee?
So there is much to dislike about the business tax. And it is not an excuse that the city really needs the money this year and can't eliminate it. If it is going to provide $275,000 to the Chamber as it has said it will, it shouldn't come from a poorly conceived tax.
Advancing rational, researched and factual objections, not grossly inaccurate statements to intensify the anger is the responsibility of any group which seeks to influence public policy.
A widely disseminated press release/newsletter from OCTAVE we received last week said that not all Elgin businesses were on the list the city was using to determine who owed the tax. Further, the release that the city received the list from the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce, which omitted the names of certain dues-paying Chamber members.
"Are you shocked and disturbed yet?!" the news release asked.
That is a serious allegation and one that BocaJump reporter Ted Schnell immediately investigated. The facts? That was not true at all. The Chamber did not provide the list and the inference that it intentionally omitted some its members was therefore spurious.
OCTAVE acknowledged that it erred when confronted by Ted.
The public arena is not an Internet chat room or a mindless blog offered as a harmless personal opinion. Participation in public affairs requires a responsibility to be accurate, truthful and reasoned.
Not everything is a conspiracy. Not every public action is a scheme dreamed up by the wealthy and powerful to assure their continued dominance. Not every public body is full of conniving thieves who can only be unmasked by bold crusaders unafraid of consequences.
Agitating a segment of the community with half-truths, misstatements and innuendo of back room deals that are exposed as fabrication undermine the legitimacy of the cause OCTAVE seeks to promote.
The truth is that several Elgin City Councilmen and some in city administration also question the legitimacy of the business tax. But accusations of dishonesty and a mocking, derisive tone further alienate them. OCTAVE cast itself as the enemy, not as a partner is solving a community issue.
And now OCTAVE has been shown to be at best ill-informed and untrustworthy and at worst, deliberately deceptive.
The cause is just, the methods are not. OCTAVE must find a better way to present itself or be marginalized in future discussions.