Sunshine. Boy is it nice after a long period of rain. But this week is about a different kind of sunshine. This week is Sunshine Week in Georgia and that refers to transparency in government.
For the government to be by the people and for the people, the government’s business has to be out front of the people and easily accessible. It’s your right to know. Government entities use your tax money to provide services, etc. and you have a right to know how that money is being spent.
Every motion made, every deliberation by city council, a county commission, or the General Assembly or U.S. Congress is the people’s business.
Sunshine laws, or open meetings laws which are supposed to protect the public’s right to know, are constantly changing and most of the time watered down so as to not allow for so much transparency. Some officials resent being asked to be transparent in all dealings. But you see, the government derives all of its power from the public and therefore, answerable to the public.
Every citizen should have open access to information that is free and easily obtained. This is actually democracy in action and it is every American’s right. It also makes perfect sense. No branch of government should hinder that access or circumvent it.
Times have changed in that aspect as there was a time I could walk into any governmental office, ask a question or ask to see a record or information and I would be freely given it. Nowadays they want you to put it in writing and most of them are going to take the full three days allowed by law to get it to you. Some of those people you have to ask for the information, from even act as if it is a slap in their face and a nuisance for them. That’s now how it should be but unfortunately it’s becoming more and more that way.
When I’m asking for something, it’s not because I just want to know personally. It’s that I have a job to do and the people have a right to know. Honestly, that information already belongs to the public anyway. If you want to keep that information from me and thusly, from the public, then I have to question if there is something underhanded going on that you don’t want found out.
Many times these same entities will use an executive session to discuss something they don’t want out in the public. These folks haven’t learned yet that it’s just better to tell the truth, let the public know than to hide it and let it get out and then the public is upset.
Yes, the law does allow three things that can be discussed in a closed executive session which excludes the public. These three are litigation, personnel and land acquisition. However, sometimes entities use a broad scale when it comes to determining if it can be discussed in a closed meeting and also discuss other issues, which the law prohibits. Because it’s a closed meeting, we may never know about it. If we ever do find out this was the case, we will hold their feet to the fire and call them out for you.
As the county’s legal organ we are to be notified of meetings, public hearings, etc. so we can inform the public as well. Social media keeps trying to take our place and some of those laws have been lessened which is not in the best interest of the citizens, but unless we get legislators behind the concept that will not change and we one day may see the sunshine laws become nonexistent. That will be because they believe it is not the public’s right to know.
That day will be a sad day for the public’s right to know. You can help us by making sure your legislator supports the sunshine laws and works to see they are not weakened but strengthened. You can also elect those who will support your right to know. Encourage your elected officials to be transparent and forthcoming with information.
We haven’t had any trouble from the City of Roberta with the new administration and that’s a blessing. We occasionally do have trouble with City of Byron’s manager and the county commissions but not on a large scale. Many times it’s because they don’t have a strong grasp on the laws or they want to give up more control than allowed.
You can be sure we will continue to let the sunshine in when it comes to your right to know. That’s a big part of our job. A job we take seriously.
VICTORIA SIMMONS Is a columnist, author, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org