I have always opened our opinion pages to our readers and the candidates. I believe the opinion page should be an open forum for everyone to freely express their views — regardless of whether I agree with them or not.

During campaign season, I’ve always opened the opinion pages to readers and candidates. I do that for a number of reasons. First, I believe it is impossible for voters to have too much information about the people they will elect to represent them in public office. I also know that in many cases, candidates are running on a shoestring budget and their only opportunity to share their message with the community is through a column in the newspaper. Not many newspapers provide that opportunity. Some candidates take advantage of it, some don’t. But I feel it’s important to make that opportunity available to every candidate.

During the past week, you most likely saw the notice in the Letters to the Editor section informing everyone about the deadline for political letters. There are two reasons for putting a deadline on political letters. One is purely logistical. It takes time to receive, process and allocate space in the paper to print those letters. In order to publish all of the letters prior to the election, we have to set deadlines.

There is also a second reason, which we at the newspaper refer to as “The Paul Perry Rule.”

The Paul Perry Rule was enacted following the 1998 Republican Primary election. It was my first year serving as the editor of a newspaper. Like most rookies in any job, I gained valuable experience through on-the-job training — and by learning from my mistakes.

That year, Paul Perry was running for Ellis County Judge against incumbent Al Cornelius. Then, as now, I encouraged an open forum on the opinion page and welcomed endorsement letters and columns from candidates. The only problem was that I never set a deadline for receiving those submissions and continued to publish letters up to Election Day.

During our last issue prior to the election, a reader had submitted a letter — which I published — which was very critical of Paul Perry.

While it wasn’t unusual for a campaign season political letter, the problem was that I allowed the letter to be published without providing the candidate (in this case Paul Perry), any opportunity to respond.

It was a very close election and Paul was narrowly defeated by the incumbent.

Did that letter sway the election? Only God knows the answer to that.

Despite my best intentions to provide an open forum for everyone to express their viewpoints, I knew I should have done a better job to ensure a level playing field.

Every election cycle since, I’ve enacted The Paul Perry Rule. Every local politician that wanted to submit campaign information is familiar with it.

The rule is that the newspaper will publish political letters as close as we can to Election Day, while still providing candidates an opportunity to rebut any information in those letters or columns before the election.

In this case, any candidate could have submitted a rebuttal to be published in today’s paper ONLY IN RESPONSE to viewpoints published on the opinion pages in last week’s editions.

Richard Rozier, a candidate for Ellis County Judge in next Tuesday’s GOP primary, asked for an opportunity to respond to my column in Thursday’s edition regarding his campaign flier which has since come to be known as “The Pig Mailer.”

I wrote the column in response to the controversy it sparked throughout the county soon after it began arriving in mailboxes.

I also called him out on his statement in the flier claiming that one of his opponents had put public safety at risk, saying in my column that statement was blatantly misleading.

Without rehashing the budget issue, I want to say on the record that we have a fantastic sheriff’s department. Sheriff Johnny Brown has done a remarkable job of making the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) into one of — if not the — top sheriff’s departments in the state of Texas.

Major crime is down. Community involvement with the department is at an all-time high and growing daily through the many outreach programs that have been implemented at the department. The ECSO is one of the best-equipped, high-tech departments of any law enforcement agency in the state. It has a modern, well-equipped fleet of police vehicles suitable for both urban and rural patrols. It has a plane. It has an armored assault vehicle. It has a staff of highly trained investigators and specialists. It has canine units. Best of all, a lot of this equipment being used by our deputies didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime because it was purchased with drug forfeiture funds taken from criminals who were arrested and convicted of crimes in Ellis County. I haven’t even mentioned any of the community service initiatives the ECSO carries out on a regular basis — each on saving the taxpayers money.

Sheriff Brown operates an extremely efficient department. And even if the department’s funding had been cut by more than the positions that hadn’t been filled in four years (it hasn’t), Sheriff Brown would have found a way to keep our community safe — even if he had to patrol on horseback. And knowing Sheriff Brown, he probably has patrolled on horseback because he has demonstrated time and again he is willing to do what it takes to get the job done and keep our communities safe.

Because of my job, I get the opportunity to talk to the men and women of our ECSO every day. They do a remarkable job and there are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to praise the work they do on our behalf.

I stand by my comment that the public safety at risk point in the campaign mailer was misleading. While it was a “shot” aimed at a political opponent during an election, I also felt it a was disservice to Sheriff Brown and his team.  

Mr. Rozier’s comments in the mailer attacking Judge Bush for raising taxes three years ago and for being censured by the Ellis County Republican Party three years ago for raising taxes were both accurate and fair — and I told Mr. Rozier that in person and I’m putting it in print.

Had not the illustrations in the mailer sparked such a controversy controversy with readers urging the paper to address the issue, I likely wouldn’t have seen the mailer’s accusation of “Putting Our Safety at Risk.” It is his right to make that a campaign issue, but I take offense at trying to scare the population into thinking the sheriff’s department can’t or isn’t able to do its job when nothing could be farther from the truth.

In keeping with The Paul Perry Rule, Mr. Rozier’s rebuttal is published on Page 7A of today’s edition.

The Paul Perry Rule was created to provide candidates with an opportunity to RESPOND to previously published commentary prior to Election Day — not to introduce new material or accusations against opponents leaving them with no opportunity to respond.

In his rebuttal, Mr. Rozier goes beyond responding to the column — specifically in making new campaign issues against Judge Bush. In the effort of fairness, I have provided Judge Bush with the opportunity to respond — which is exactly why The Paul Perry Rule was created in the first place. Her response is also published on Page 7A of today’s edition.

Neal White is the Publisher and Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at neal.white@waxahachietx.com or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.