Last week I pushed a hot button by calling out the tennis court critics and asking them to get all the facts on the matter and figure out what they can do to make our town better rather than complaining on the internet.

I talked specifically about the tennis court critique, but the fact is that there are numerous decisions that have recently come into question, and a lot of debate has been bantered about on social media. In every case, I believe that seeking the full story and engaging directly with your city and county representatives is the best way to bring positive and productive influence to the table.

As a former candidate for a seat on the Rome City Commission and current chair of the Alcohol Control Commission, I pay a good bit of attention to the way that decisions are made in our community. I don’t claim to see it all, but there is no question for me that the folks who run our city and county have the best of intentions with every decision that is made, and I truly believe that there is no greedy or nefarious influence in those choices, in spite of what I read from the armchair critics on the world wide web.

It is my belief that if you are going to make accusations against someone’s character, you had better have some facts to back it up, and I have yet to see anything other than a general mistrust of any government official. Yes, we have seen some pretty nasty stuff over the years on the national stage, and even some local behavior that would make you think twice, but until you know something is fishy, save the stink and look for answers and solutions rather than fictitious finger targets.

I see a lot of people convinced that they are not being heard, but those folks are generally using social media as their outlet, which isn’t the best way to ensure you are getting your two cents in the mix. If you have a complaint about something that you see happening in Rome, you have several options by which to register your concerns in a very direct manner.

Citizens are always welcome to attend City Commission meetings. This is a great way to see how your representatives are voting and get the details about the topics in question. If you want to speak before the commission you can call the City Clerk’s office ahead of the meeting to ask to be put on the agenda. If you can’t make it to the meeting, they stream them live online. Just visit romefloyd.com/rome/commission to find where the live feed is linked.

You are also always welcome to email or call the city commissioners directly with your questions or concerns. You can find their email addresses and phone numbers at the link above as well. This is a great way to see what position each commissioner is taking on your point of concern, and is a chance to ask them point blank why they have come to that conclusion.

You can also call or email your county commissioners. Their contact info can be found at romefloyd.com/floyd/commission along with links to ways that you can get involved with citizen boards.

Are potholes and other infrastructure issues on your mind? Use the free “myRome” app on your smartphone to send a request for a particular spot, see what requests have already been registered near you, check the Rome City calendar and much, much more.

The city and county have done a pretty good job of giving you options for getting your questions answered and opinions heard. I’m not saying that putting your thoughts in the mix will automatically get you the results you want, but you can at least know that your opinion has been registered if you go through the proper channels.

However, it’s not hard to see that the times, they are a changin’. I believe that city and county officials have an obligation to keep up with the court of public opinion that plays out on social media, whether they want to or not. Folks are brutal in that platform, of course. It is really easy to get nasty when you aren’t talking directly to someone and are rather addressing a “they.” “Chicken” is a good term for those who are willing to yell and insult in that faceless atmosphere rather than deal directly and respectfully, but that’s just my opinion. Therefore, while I think that they should be paying attention, it is not because I think they should necessarily listen to the rhetoric, but rather use it as a guide to what it is they are not getting across.

A lot of the nasty opinion on the tennis courts is based on a lack of information and understanding about what is really going on. Transparency is critical to combating confusion and I think we could do a much better job at that. As the saying goes, “A lie can travel halfway ‘round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” When the truth is not provided freely, it leaves a vacuum that is easily filled with conjecture and speculation. It is the responsibility of those in the know to fill that void when possible and often.

The thing that I find most concerning about this trend towards vicious attacks on the internet, is that it is being seen by a much larger audience than just our local citizens. Is that horrible perspective really how we want our town to be viewed? Yes, the concerns being presented are valid in some cases, but can we please use a more appropriate platform, and can our powers-that-be please listen and respond in helpful ways? This is what will be productive towards making our already great town even better, rather than making us look like a terrible place to live.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.