The Cobb County Courier prepares for the upcoming 2024 elections

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As the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier, I decide how our editorial calendar looks for the year. Some years, I’m happy with the job I’ve done; some years, I’m embarrassed at the missed opportunities and misallocation of our resources.

So, as the new year bears down on us, it’s time to start preparing for the big story at the local, state, and national levels for 2024, the presidential election year.

As a local editor, I make an effort not to get caught up in the apocalyptic rhetoric swirling around in opinion columns about how permanent the effects of this presidential election will be, but it is obviously one of enormous impact.

In fact, this is probably the most important election year of my lifetime (and bear in mind that Harry Truman was president when I was born). So, the Cobb County Courier will put much of our resources into ensuring our election coverage is strong.

For commentary from a long-time political opinion columnist on the importance of this election, read this column by Jay Bookman.

This increased coverage will include giving readers the basic tools they need to participate in the elections (voter registration information, election calendars, changes in polling places and election laws …).

But another part of making the coverage strong is moving into sometimes uncomfortable territory. Good coverage means putting the spotlight on the administrative capabilities of candidates. For example, does the candidate file the required campaign disclosures on time and provide the required information? This is important because providing this information shows transparency and organizational skills. It also lets citizens know who is funding various candidates.

Does the candidate have a record of unpaid bills, bankruptcies, and lawsuits? The implications here are obvious. Elected public officials have to vote on budgets, even if they are not responsible for creating the budget. It’s important that the public knows whether candidates can manage money.

Dedicated voters can find information about whether candidates with a history in Cobb County have past or current lawsuits, liens, and criminal proceedings by visiting the Superior Court records search page. Be sure to search both civil and criminal cases and to also do a real estate record search. Real estate legal proceedings are in the jurisdiction of Superior Court, and that’s where you would find property liens.

If the candidate has held office before, do they have a history of ethics violations? Ethics rules are there for a reason. Public officials should be compensated fairly for their work, but it’s not the place to abuse a position of power for self-enrichment or entitlement.

These are uncomfortable areas to cover consistently for a number of reasons.

On a general level, there are always violations and candidates with checkered pasts every single election cycle. Those candidates usually have supporters, and no one likes to hear that their favored candidate isn’t picture-perfect. The candidates often don’t like it either. So, my phone typically rings, with angry shouting by candidates and/or their supporters.

On a personal level, I have no idea how much weight voters should put on the past behavior of a candidate, particularly if it’s in the distant past. People do learn and change, and I have my own set of criteria for determining if the candidate has changed.

But that’s not up to me as an editor to decide. Readers have a right to know if there are relevant lapses of skill and character in candidates and to determine if it should affect their vote.

The job of the Cobb County Courier is to provide the information. The job of the voter is to determine whether it matters.

The theme that runs through what I’ve written so far is honesty, transparency, administrative skills, compliance with ethics and disclosure rules, and obeying the law.

But what about policy? There are several ways to find out what policies the candidates support or reject. As a news organization, we can send out candidate surveys.

For incumbents and other people who’ve held office in the past, there’s a record of their past voting and behavior for most offices. That’s easier to determine for officials who vote on ordinances and laws. For other offices, particularly in the courts and in law enforcement, there isn’t as clear a record.

But it is possible to do searches and find out what their pronouncements have been in the past. Sheriffs and District Attorneys, for instance, make statements about their judicial and law enforcement philosophies during campaigns, and subsequent news reports on their activities in office can fill out the picture. The Courier will try to do coverage that draws on the candidate’s track record.

I hope readers will return to the Courier often during this election season. With our current level of resources, we can only do original coverage of candidates who represent all or parts of Cobb County. But we’ll also include national coverage from The Conversation and the States Newsroom, and Georgia coverage from the Georgia Recorder.