03/16/09 — Shine a light: Open government rules should matter to you, too

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Shine a light: Open government rules should matter to you, too

Most people do not think about open government or what it means to them until they are personally affected.

Until they have to get information from a county commission, school board or even the governor's office, they might not realize that there are laws on the books in North Carolina right now that make sure that it is as difficult as possible to get information that by rights, really, belongs to the taxpayers of this state and community.

And by making that information not so easy to retrieve and meetings easier to close to the public, there are often misdeeds, misappropriations and just slightly to blatantly unethical deal-making that results in sweetheart deals, bad contracts and all sorts of other chances to skirt the rules, to avoid a step or to give undue influence to a group or even, in some cases, an officeholder.

Government secrecy breeds problems like those that North Carolina has suffered in the past. It makes it harder and harder for the watchdogs to follow the trails and to uncover the wrongdoing.

By allowing government liberal latitude when it comes to closing meetings and making many records difficult to retrieve, North Carolina is making it much more difficult to achieve the transparency that encourages honest, forthright and open dealings between government agencies and the public they are supposed to be serving.

And knowing what government is doing -- and even what is being talked about behind closed doors -- protects taxpayers and their wallets.

So when the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition officially begins Sunshine Week today -- and you read that Gov. Bev Perdue made an official declaration to that effect -- you might want to think a bit about what you would like to know about the governments that serve you and what steps you are willing to take to make sure that openness is honored.

Sunshine Week is designed to remind communities not just of the importance of a free press and of the work that is being done to keep North Carolina government honest, but to encourage citizens to take part in making sure that governments are required to answer to the people not just when they want to, but when there is something to hide.

Opening up North Carolina government is the responsibility of everyone who cares about this state and its future.

A government with nothing to hide has no fear of conducting its business open and honestly. But nothing will change unless citizens demand that it does.

Join us this week as this newspaper and others across the state continue that fight.

Published in Editorials on March 16, 2009 10:27 AM