March 18, 2014
Open government is important. It’s powerful. It’s the American way.
Unfortunately there are many government officials throughout our country — in state and national government — who take the “what they don’t know won’t hurt us” attitude, leaning heavily on closed-door meetings, locked away documents and repressed information as their way of doing the public’s business.
Many believe they were elected to serve the people and they should be allowed to do so as they see fit, with no scrutiny or questions from anyone.
That’s not what our founding fathers intended when they wrote the U.S. Constitution; that’s not what was intended when the Freedom of Information Act was established and that’s not what was intended by those who established laws governing government meetings, ensuring that they were as open as possible while protecting the rights of others at the same time.
We are fortunate in Sampson County right now to have many government leaders who believe strongly in the openness of government. At City Council and county commissioners meetings, fewer and fewer closed door meetings are called for, and at our small municipal government meetings, it is rare for members to shut the door to the public, and if they do, they usually have very good — and legal — reasons to do so.
Work still needs to be done on boards of education meetings, where a closed-door meeting is called nearly each and every time they gather. Whether that’s necessary or not is debatable, but they use the exceptions in the Open Meetings Law to close the door to the public on certain issues.
Some of those meetings are closed for valid reasons, particularly issues that pertain to students; others, however, may fall into gray areas where members should err on the side of the public. But in all, open government is practiced at school board meetings, too, and we appreciate it. You, as citizens should too.
And you should, as citizens want to be active participants in open government, attending meetings as often as possible and, at the very least, catching stories about those meetings that appear in our newspaper or on our website at www.clintonnc.com.
As citizens, open government is something we should encourage and something, quite frankly, we should demand of our leaders.
It is up to us all to ensure that our government — on the local, state and national level — remains for the people and by the people.
Anything less shortchanges us all.