Let the sun shineGiving control of information generated by the government to a person, board, corporation or government diminishes democracy. Holding access to information is about controlling the message, managing the spin — building or shifting public opinion for someone’s profit. This is true in the public sector as well as the private sector.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
Giving control of information generated by the government to a person, board, corporation or government diminishes democracy.
Holding access to information is about controlling the message, managing the spin — building or shifting public opinion for someone’s profit. This is true in the public sector as well as the private sector. It’s a reason there are always efforts to keep government documents confidential and to do government business behind closed doors. It’s true no matter the size of government — city, county, state or national.
Sunshine Week, which began Sunday, celebrates the free access to government and its information.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution codifies this right, unequivocally.
In North Dakota, these rights are found in the state open meetings and open records laws. Their basic principle is that everything is open and public except that which is otherwise closed.
In other words, all meetings are open unless there is a provision in state law, placed there by the Legislature, to close that meeting.
There are provisions for executive sessions, related to boards and commissions seeking legal advice on a lawsuit, particular economic development issues and certain personnel issues. Same goes for documents.
When the state’s open meetings and open records laws were first passed, there were few exceptions. However, with each meeting of the Legislature, more doors are closed and more records stamped “secret.”
There are two typical reasons for expanding the blanket of government secrecy.
First, there’s the belief that someone’s privacy is being invaded. So we protect the privacy of students, patients in hospitals, juvenile criminals and others, despite the social links and responsibilities these individuals might have to the community.
Americans are strong believers in the individual spirit and, as a result, privacy. Unfortunately, there are always people trying to hide bad behavior behind rights of privacy, such as DUIs and pot busts. People try to extend their privacy to public contracts — land transactions and bankruptcy. And others attempt to keep personal issues of a communal nature private — births and divorces. While the tenets of individualism are important, they must be balanced by the fact that we are also social creatures interacting in a democracy.
There also is the concern that people (taxpayers) do not need to know how and why their tax dollars are being spent. It’s based on a belief that “the people” aren’t very smart, that they don’t get it, and that government functionaries and elected officials know best. Fancy that.
Let the Sunshine in ... let people continue to pressure government to be open and, as a result, accountable.