My propensity for political nonsense has become almost non-existent this past year. After 40 years in this business, 35 of those years covering government meetings, I am tired of beating my head against the wall.
I expect, and citizens should expect, these elected officials to do their jobs. In doing so, that means being upfront and transparent about what they are doing. I am doing my job and that’s all I’m doing when I ask questions. I expect them to be answered truthfully and without political rhetoric.
It’s an age old problem that never goes away. In fact, it seems the more open meetings and records laws we have, the less transparent government becomes. Those laws are not very strong in the first place. Fines for agencies not adhering to them are not hefty enough for the agency to worry about. And if a newspaper does take them to court and doesn’t win, that causes a hefty attorney bill so it’s not very often a newspaper goes that far.
It’s a sad state of affairs and many days my frustration level is out the roof. Over the years, I have had to wrangle information from various agencies through Open Records’ requests and keep on them about it until received. In all those years, I have to say the worst problem I have ever had is right here in Roberta. Everyone else seems to hand whatever I need over, even if it’s sometimes reluctantly.
But the City of Roberta is not the only place, there are lots of others. Even in Byron, back room deals are made and decisions approved out of the watchful eye of the public. And for some reason people want to tell me about everything. They think the newspaper can do something about things which are not the newspaper’s business. Supposedly there are numerous things going on which I cannot even begin to write about or even fathom in my own mind.While I certainly don’t understand all of the shenanigans, I can’t write about people’s personal lives even though it speaks volumes about ethics and morals.
Elected officials who have been in the position for a long time have figured out how to answer questions without really answering them. Some councils have attorneys who were elected and they are so used to distorting the truth to fit the circumstances for a defense that it spills over into their responses as elected officials.
In some instances, certain members of council are kept in the dark about certain issues and agreements and are made to feel they are not a part of what is supposed to be a “team”. They are so intent on trying to make the public think they are unified they actually look disjointed and dysfunctional. Some of them get tired of the games played between the council members, while others keep silent for whatever reason. At times it seems there are some who have personal agendas or at least some kind of agenda they are trying to impose on the masses.
Getting elected is not easy and has its share of craziness and I know they get complaints all the time. However, on the other hand, they chose to run and should know what comes with the territory.
Each member of council should respect the other members and their opinions, especially in the public eye. I have witnessed council members belittle other members in a public meeting. Really? How old are you? Unfortunately, this is the case from time to time.
I have even heard that some council members tell other members not to talk to the press without clearing it with them or the city attorney. Heavens to Betsy!
These people sometimes perceive they have more power than they do and they try to wield it flagrantly or try to beat others over the head with it.
Because of years and years of this type behavior from local elected officials, the public has developed a severe case of apathy. It is a disease which kills any ideas of trying to change things or making any difference.
While, as the fourth estate, we the press, gladly go to the mat for the citizens in trying to get to the bottom of things, we too get weary when we don’t get support from those who want to know but won’t ask the questions themselves. Eventually, everyone gets tired of beating their head against a brick wall and eventually it’s time to stop the bleeding. Especially, when you don’t see any real results or are not making forward progress.
We will always champion the cause of the citizen and the right to know, but sometimes we need to chill and get our strength refilled to continue the fight. Perhaps one day the open records laws will have more teeth in them and there will be more incentives for agencies to comply. Until then, we will regroup, stand tall and get ready to charge again when necessary. © 2017
VICTORIA SIMMONS is an author, columnist, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org