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. And they often wield their power in a way that serves to close the door even tighter to citizens.
Closing that door, making information more difficult to obtain, is 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 they serve, and if they do, they usually have good — and legal — reasons to do so.
Much work has also been done at local board of education meetings, where officials are less prone to hold closed-door meetings each and every time they gather. Those are steps in the right direction, and both the Clinton City and Sampson County boards of education, and their superintendents, deserve a thank you from the public for making their meetings far more transparent.
Now, when the boards close their meetings, the reasons seem far more valid, mostly pertaining to student issues that understandably must be closed for the protection of a young person.
Work still needs to be done by some local municipal officials who sometimes like to control information that the public is allowed to see, but even that is being monitored, and we are finding less of that happening than in past years.
We believe strongly in light being shed constantly on government actions, just as we believe in meetings being open and government officials being as forthright as they can be. We will remain actively engaged in ensuring that our government officials stay transparent and that all information we can gather is provided to the public we all serve.
Citizens, too, should 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 at every level of government.
It is up to us all to ensure that our government, at every level, remains for the people and by the people. Anything less shortchanges us all.