Election years have a way of turning all politicians into open government advocates.
All Republicans and all Democrats will pledge to be transparent and will talk nauseum about their open door policy.
Transparency – keeping light on the people’s business – should be something everyone can agree on, regardless of party affiliation.
The problem is that as soon as the campaign ends, the commitment to open government also ends.
Neither political party has a great track record of real and meaningful transparency.
Most often, the minority party advocates transparency until it becomes the majority.
Almost all politicians obsess over transparency and public access, until they have something they want to hide from the public.
Politicians negotiate deals behind closed doors and withhold documents containing important information that the public has a right, and often needs, to know and that is so routine that it is simply treated as business as usual – the way things are done.
The public has a right to know how its business is conducted and how its money is spent.
The decisions made, the dollars distributed, and the records kept by the Georgia City Hall, County Commission, Board of Education, and General Assembly belong to all of us — liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between.
The people of Georgia have a direct interest in public meetings and public records.
Everyone should care deeply about transparency issues even if we can’t agree on anything else in policy. The lack and need for true government transparency should be the most bipartisan cause there is.
Elected officials engaged in public service must fully understand what a representative form of government is, must not only champion transparency in government, but must be the most effective watchdogs, ensuring public trust.
The press keeps tabs on the government, exposing clandestine actions and in response journalists are often ridiculed, belittled and insulted by the elected officials themselves, simply for doing their jobs and working hard to maintain the honesty of the government. government by taking advantage of public access laws.
The public must understand these same laws that guarantee access to government records and actions are not just a media right. It’s about the public’s right to know.
Jim Zachary is editor of the Valdosta Daily Times, director of training and newsroom development at CNHI, and chairman emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.