THIS BLOG POST IS ONE OF SEVERAL GUEST EDITORIALS THAT WILL BE PUBLISHED DURING SUNSHINE WEEK (March 14 – 20), HIGHLIGHTING THE NEED FOR MORE GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY.
By Jim Zachary, CNHI
Open government is good government or, at the very least, it is better government.
In order for government to be of, by and for the people, it must always be out in front of the people.
Government at all levels — local, state and federal — belongs to the governed not to the governing.
As often said, we are the government and the government is us.
All the business transacted by government and all the money collected and spent by government belongs to the public.
However, public oversight is only possible when government is open, transparent and accessible.
Nefarious deeds happen in the dark, behind closed doors.
Every state has laws requiring local jurisdictions — city councils, county commissions, boards of education, governing authorities, commissions and boards — to disclose public records and conduct public meetings out in the open.
Unfortunately, many states exempt state government itself from those same requirements.
It is unfortunate that laws are even needed to require government at any level to be transparent.
Simply put, those with nothing to hide don’t hide.
There is nothing partisan or political about government transparency, or at least there shouldn’t be.
When the public attends government meetings or files open records requests, it is simply democracy in action. Full access to our government is part and parcel of our liberty.
Your local newspaper helps keep an eye on government by attending meetings and filing freedom of information requests but open government laws are not media laws. All of us should have unfettered access to what government is doing.
The right to know is a public right.
When records custodians at city hall or the county courthouse, with the public school system or at the state capitol comply with our public records requests, they are simply giving us what already belongs to us. Complying with records requests should be viewed as routine transactions between local government and the public.
Attending the meetings of local government, sitting in on deliberations, understanding not only what decisions are reached but how those decisions are reached should be a very ordinary interaction between local government and the general public.
Not only is open government good government, it is the government we have.
Jim Zachary is Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. (CNHI) director of newsroom training and development, editor of The Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.