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home : opinion : opinion June 25, 2016

3/17/2014 12:25:00 PM
Editorial Protect your right to know what elected officials are planning and doing

Every year there are efforts in the state legislature to weaken the protections written into state law to protect the public's right to know what elected officials at every level are doing with the authority we as citizens have granted to them from our individual authorities.

Too many elected officials begin to look upon the authority we have transferred to them as their personal due, as power to which they are entitled, and choose to forget that they are accountable to us for all their activities.

Elected officials do not have a right to know anything we do not have a right to know, and only have limited permission to know things that we do not have a right to know. That is the nature of representative government. We elect people to represent us in running our government and give them permission to use our authority while they are representing us. Too often, elected officials then attempt to create new authority for themselves by writing laws limiting our ability to know what they are doing with the authority we have granted them.

This year, among the attempts being made is one to allow elected officials to use texting, email and social media, ostensibly to expedite the efficient operation of government, without being subject to the provisions of state open meeting laws, which are designed to ensure that public business is conducted in public.

There is no question that officials can more efficiently approve all kinds of expenditures for all kinds of projects, especially those from which they may personally benefit, if they can make all the arrangements without anyone knowing and without anyone having the opportunity to object and/or encourage others to object.

Our open meeting laws help protect us from political corruption by requiring the business of government to be conducted in the open. Elected officials are not allowed to hold a meeting or meetings without notice in advance and without allowing the public to know what business is being conducted, except in a very few special situations.

Of course, not all governmental bodies obey the open meeting laws but having the open meeting laws allows us to take action against those violators. Sometimes it takes a while to know for sure violations are taking place, but the sanctions available are sufficiently onerous that most government bodies comply.

Elected officials are not always trying to do something illegal or unethical when they hold illegal sessions. Quite often, I think they believe what they are doing is in the best interest of their constituents. What they forget is that open discussion and sharing of ideas by those responsible for or effected by an issue can lead to better solutions. Elected officials rarely know more about the issues than the people they represent, but they often think they do because someone with a vested interest presents them with a reasonable sounding synopsis of the issue. Once officials buy into a position on an issue, they have a hard time giving it up, as do most of us, that is why it is important to have laws requiring open meetings and limiting private discussion of issues by officials outside those meetings.

We can help protect our right to know what is happening in all of our government bodies by contacting our legislators and telling them not to allow exemptions from open meeting rules for texting, email and social media communications by elected officials.

Larry Dobson

Claremont Service

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