EDITORIAL: Meeting the daylight test
May 13, 2014 | 2405 views | 0 0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Laws requiring government business to be conducted in the open have been on the books for more than a century. Open-meeting laws rendered officially illegal, in addition to obviously unethical, the stereotypical smoke-filled back rooms where decisions affecting thousands of citizens were made without public oversight and with highly questionable motivation.

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California words it eloquently: “Government that is not transparent is more prone to corruption and undue influence because there is no public oversight of decision making.”

Matters of national security are generally exempt from open-disclosure rules, for reasons which we would hope are obvious.

Additionally, there are exceptions which permit private discussion of matters of an especially sensitive nature, such as proposed acquisitions of real property (when disclosure could artificially drive up prices) or in handling of personnel matters (when inordinate embarrassment might result from necessary debate).

However, only discussion of these excepted issues is permitted. No action may be taken on any of them except in an open and public meeting.

Just like all laws, the so-called “sunshine” laws have never been 100 percent effective. Long after the public outcry and sensational newspaper coverage of their antics, various corrupt political machines continued to wield influence, or outright rig elections and other political processes.

Part of the blame for the shortcomings of the open-meetings laws lies with the citizenry those laws were enacted to protect. This is especially true with a citizenry such as ours.

In a small town or a rural community, with a relatively small population, it’s pretty much inexcusable for anybody to claim ignorance of anything that’s going on in their local government.

That is not to suggest that secrets cannot be maintained, at least for a short period of time, or to assume that all dirty deeds are immediately detected.

We are convinced that if enough citizens are sufficiently interested and involved in monitoring what’s going on in local government, and are in touch with what’s going on as a consequence of local governments’ actions, that is usually adequate oversight.

If no one cares enough to keep an eye on things, the citizens deserve whatever they get.

Frankly, we find no significant fault among local government entities regarding the transparency in which official business is handled. That stands in contrast to some public bodies in our region which have recently drawn criticism for their ignorance or blatant disregard for the requirements of Kentucky’s open-meeting laws.

Vigilance is not a bad thing. Citizens ought to have an avid interest in the conduct of their business by their chosen representatives. Scrutiny, even that which borders on the ludicrous, ought not be resented or feared by those who are convinced they are doing the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, as prescribed by law.
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