This is Sunshine Week.
For the average citizen this might go by unnoticed. However, for journalists it is a time we observe the public’s right to know how their governmental agencies are operating.
Without an open records law and open meetings law governments could operate sans public scrutiny.
Imagine for a minute that these laws didn’t exist. Everything from municipal budgets to arrest reports would be sealed off from public viewing. Essentially all branches of government could operate free from public inspection. Joe Q. Public would be denied access to not only how his tax dollars are spent but who was spending them.
Currently there are pieces of legislation pending that could change the open records law as well as how public notices are posted.
Broken down that means everything that anyone can access today, they may not be able to access if these laws are changed.
Furthermore, it would mean governments would no longer be compelled to run requests for bids, post meeting announcements, etc in newspapers.
Obviously print journalists are against these moves. But it is not just revenue motivated. The public has a right to be informed.
The suggestion is to post public notices on the doors of city halls and on municipal websites instead of running them in newspapers. A third of Tennessee’s county governments don’t even have websites. And in rural communities such as ours, not every home is online. As far as posting notices on the doors at city hall- how many citizens go to city hall on a regular basis?
But people do read newspapers. In fact, recent studies have shown that two adults read each newspaper printed.
With those statistics in mind, it is vital that municipalities continue to use newspapers as a medium for reaching the public. Concerning public records- what else needs to be said?
They are public and should remain that way. People have the right to know- that can’t be said enough. Whether a citizen wants to see how much money city officials spent on a specific project or he wants to know why his neighbor was led away in handcuffs, he should have the opportunity to find out.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed an executive order less than 24 hours after being sworn in that prevents the private income of his top aides from being disclosed. For me that calls into question his commitment to transparency in government. Is that order going to set the tone for his administration?
State lawmakers must be told how their constituents feel about this. As voters we shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to our elected officials and let them know this one area that doesn’t need fixing.