Georgia’s open meeting laws are called ”Sunshine Laws”. With this week being Sunshine Week in Georgia, in reflection I find these days the ”sunshine” doesn’t seem to be shining as bright. The laws are always under attack because the powers that be prefer to keep the public in the dark about its business. If the public doesn’t know they can’t complain or cause any trouble for them.
Next year, I will celebrate my 40th year as a journalist. During those almost 40 years I have learned a lot and one of those things is the more transparent government is, the smoother things seem to run. People don’t complain as much when government places everything in the open for them to see and know about. It is when they perceive something is being kept from them or forced on them at the last minute, that the ”ugliness” starts to surface.
I have to say in Crawford County, at least with the Board of Commissioners, they tend to be pretty transparent and the board as well as the county manager is always accessible to answering questions which arise at least on the newspaper end.
Many have gone to holding a work session prior to a regular meeting to take care of business and supposedly so regular meeting doesn’t last as long. Unfortunately, very few if any, citizens usually attend the workshops which would give background information as well as insight into some issues which arise. If something controversial is going on, then you will see citizens at workshops but that is not the norm.
Newspapers, with such small staffs these days, can’t attend all meetings either and when having to choose between the work session and the regular meeting, the regular meeting will win because that’s where the voting on agenda items takes place.
Government entities are spending our tax money and taxpayers should be interested in how that money is being used. We should also be holding our elected officials accountable.
It is kind of ironic to me that every day we are bombarded with information and we know more about the lives of the people on our social media sites, whom we have never met, than we do about what is going on with our governments. Some citizens do not even take the time to read the newspaper to find out what’s going on in the community. And they certainly wouldn’t take the time to do any research on how an entity is spending tax money. Yes, at the newspaper, we try to stay on top of this but, sometimes things do fall through the cracks and as mentioned, we can’t always be everywhere. I am the only full time person at this newspaper and only have a part-time reporter. There are only so much of each of us to go around. So, we depend on citizens to help keep us informed and stay on top of issues.
When government does not seem transparent, we need to take that personally. When questions can’t get answered or an official takes offense because, heaven forbid your opinion doesn’t agree with theirs; or they don’t try to help you get answers, we need to question ”why”.
Open and transparent government is essential and we should fight to protect our freedom of information and stand together against secrecy, waste and corruption.
To me, every time there is an assault on freedom of information, the person behind it is wanting to keep something from public scrutiny. There is a bill in committee that would allow local governments the option of placing required public notices on government websites, or on third party sites that bury the information instead of publishing in the local newspaper.
Public notices are required to be published in newspapers to make them more readily available to as wide an audience as possible. Even if you miss it, you can always request a copy and it is recorded for posterity. These notices are also part of the history of the community; can be researched when needed and should not be hidden. If this bill comes out of committee, it would in effect, make government its own watchdog and as we know, that is not where we want to go, especially with the way things are already in government these days.
Here we already place the notices on line as well as in the paper so I don’t understand the assault on public notices. The only thing that makes sense is to give the public less of the information and would effectively hide government actions. That would not be a good thing.
Seems to me lawmakers should be protecting the public’s right to know instead of wasting time and energy on assaulting those principles which dims the ”sunshine”. With our freedoms eroding in front of us, it’s time for more light, not less.
I want to wish my very best friend in the whole world, Frankie, a very happy birthday. She is a St. Patty’s Day baby!
VICTORIA SIMMONS is a columnist, motivational speaker/ minister and publisher/gm of The Post/Byron Buzz. Reach her by email at email@example.com