Keep Georgia in the Sunshine. Banish the backroom boys who want to take away your right to open government -- Georgia Republicans -- to the back room.
By Sam Griffin, Jr.
The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight
March 15, 2006
This week newspapers and most other news media and organizations the nation over are observing Sunshine Week. A creation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Sunshine Week is intended to focus public attention on the importance of open government and open public records to the people of this nation and to the traditions and institutions that set the United States aside from nearly all other nations in the world. The attacks on open government arising in this session of the Georgia legislature make Sunshine Week all the more appropriate.
First off, open government is not primarily a newspaper issue. It is a citizen’s issue. Open government does not directly involve the First Amendment right of a free press to publish—but rather a citizen’s right to an accountable government, one answerable to the people who empower it. The press is merely a surrogate for the citizen, and it has no greater rights to know what government is doing than the citizen—but it has all of the same rights.
Should citizens have the right to know who makes contributions to public college and university foundations—in order to make their own determination if they’ve exercised undue influence or receive favoritism? Should citizens know when entrepreneurial private companies propose unsolicited public works projects to government—projects which might involve eminent domain, long term debt, fiscal obligations or exclusivity without competition? Should citizens have the right to know what monetary, tax or real concessions government might offer private business or industrial prospects, what they manufacture, where they propose to locate or what impact such prospects might have on the community’s environment and infrastructure—before commitments are made? Should the privacy rights of industry—or individuals—supercede the rights of the public to know and determine how its assets may be or have been distributed? Should the public have the right to know that its public safety resources have been used—and why and by whom?
Georgia law currently gives you these rights. There are those who want to take them away. They certainly have their reasons—but they are for their benefit, not yours.
Keep Georgia in the Sunshine. Celebrate and exercise your right to open government and open records—and banish the back room boys to ... the back room.