A little transparency goes a long way

Gone are the days when I could walk into any official or department head’s office, sit down and ask whatever questions I needed to ask and get answers with no ifs, ands or buts. I’ve always been trusted to be fair and have had city and county officials tell me they didn’t really trust anyone else but me. When I made mistakes I owned up to them and did the best to rectify them.
Enter the age of media bashing and it doesn’t matter how long someone has known you, now all they want to do is complain and not get the truth of the matter to the public. It was called transparency back then and until recently I didn’t realize I should have appreciated those days a lot more.
I have a job to do and despite popular opinion, I do not like all the negativity and I hate it when something has to be exposed. But the public has a right to know how their tax monies are being spent and when people are misusing their power and the money entrusted to them by the people.
You would not believe some of the things we are told by people. Used to be even officials would tell us things, but that too has gone by the wayside. Not because we ever abused it, or published something we were asked not to, but it’s just the way of the world these days.
Now days, if you want to know something, you have to send an official open records request and you had better be specific for heaven forbid they should give you the whole story unless you ask for it. When responding they also quote you back the open records law number which applies to your request.
What is really funny to me is that many of the entities think they are protecting their community’s reputation by not letting anything negative get published unless it’s discovered by a newspaper. Nothing could be further from the truth and if you ask the average citizen, you will get an earful about what they do think about the city or county government.
I have always said it was always better for an entity to be transparent and put the truth out there. People will always forgive you if you are truthful, but when you try to hide something and then it is discovered, they never forget it.
People tend to forget that this is our job, but that we are also people as well. Journalists many people think, seem to have a lot of friends. It may seem that way on the surface but that’s not the truth. There are some “friends” who call themselves that because they want to be on the inside in case their name or someone kin to them is  going to have their name end up in the police report. Or they want you to tell them things so they can go out and spread it as if that makes them important.
We have a rule in my office, anything said inside here is confidential and we do not talk to anyone about it before a news story comes out. Sometimes a story can’t be written because we can’t get to the bottom of it, or we can’t prove any allegations that were made and the information dies with the story. Also, someone’s personal life is none of our business and we do not write stories about who is sleeping with who even if they are city officials or department heads, even if there are pictures to prove it. If they get caught for prostitution, trafficking or pornography, now that is a completely different story.
If I were younger and just starting out as a journalist, I think I would seek another career. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing and enjoy it most days. It has just become a lot harder to get the information you need for stories and many public officials are a lot harder to work with than it used to be. Sounds crazy in this day of social media and technology the way it is, but it’s the truth. That’s because officials do not want you to have the information. Transparency to some, is just a word they never use.
I have to say that Peach County government and Crawford County is awesome in that regard. We always get what we need and everyone is forthcoming. So is Roberta, but as you know that has not always been the case. Wish that was the case with them all, but sadly it’s not. Guess that’s not too bad considering we cover about eight different government meetings a month, sometimes more.
One person on a city council, even told another council person, not to talk with the newspaper people unless they discussed it with council. Really? Let’s just say that definitely throws up a red flag for me and I truly question the credibility of such a person. Council people are elected by the people and therefore have a right to talk to us if we question them. I have been told this council person also gets grief every time something comes out because they are sure they are in cahoots with us and that we see each other all the time to share information.
How hilarious that is to me and it’s certainly not the truth. Most things we know about come from the public who overheard it from an employee inside the entity, which makes that even more ironic to me.
When elected officials and employees are more concerned about protecting an entity’s image than truth and illegal actions, that itself is a problem. It is also a problem when they don’t give enough respect to those who serve on the same board or council with them.
Unfortunately, that’s the way the world rolls these days. Doesn’t mean it’s the right way though.©2018
VICTORIA SIMMONS is an author, columnist, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: vsimmons54@gmail.

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About vsimmons54

Veteran journalist of 40 years. Editor, Motivational Speaker, Ordained Minister, CEO of A Light in the Darkness Ministries, Copy Editor, Copywriting, Event Planner, Lensclusive Photography, Babbling Brook Consulting and Design, event planner and author. I love to write and speak and I love Jesus. I also do copy writing and editing. Recently co-authored Vanished Towns Revisited.
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