THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK, HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
In my town, when no one showed up to the weekly selectmen’s meetings, the selectmen assumed no one cared what they did. Essentially they were right and they went on to break the Right-to-Know and other municipal laws. I realized if things were going to change in my town, I had to change, first. I began by showing them I cared what they do in my name, by attending the selectmen’s meetings. Then I used the Right-to-Know Law to hold them accountable.
Through my Right to Know experiences, I’ve come to see an important connection between local and national politics. As my selectmen were held accountable, we started to draw better candidates to the office and those that could not stand the scrutiny left office. At the same time other town boards and committees started to do the job right and caused some of their individual members to leave, too. When one of my town’s former board members went on to become a state rep this made me realize our local boards are the training ground for state and national politics. As in any job, the best time for quality skills and ethics to be formed is in the beginning when learning the job. If we are absent citizens, public officials who don’t have that strength of character to always do right, are going to take advantage of me and you. Similar analogy is a bank robber. They didn’t wake up one day and start robbing banks. No, bank robbers start small with petty crimes and work their way up. Politicians first learn to skirt or get away with breaking the law when serving on our town and school boards. Make no mistake, law breaking officials are thieves of freedom making this a very important issue about protecting our freedoms so we don’t lose them.
How do we stop this law breaking as it is happening or stop it before it happens? It is simple and Right to Know gives you the right. Attend your town’s meetings as often as possible. If you have honest officials they will appreciate and welcome you. If you have dishonest officials it is the first step to stopping their shenanigans. In my town, if everyone attended only one selectmen’s meeting a year, there would always be about 30 people present every week. 30 people showing up regularly in my town would annihilate my selectmen’s idea that “we don’t care.” Furthermore, every town citizen showing up once a year would cause the local politicians who might form unscrupulous job habits to either “shape up or ship out”. Leaving us with quality people serving us locally and those who we can trust when sending them to Concord and Washington to work for us.
After signing the Declaration Ben Franklin was asked “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Loret Simonds is past president of Right to Know NH and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.