07/24/10 — Open matters: No, Mr. Chairman, the last thing this county needs is closed meetings

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Open matters: No, Mr. Chairman, the last thing this county needs is closed meetings

After his whispered protest of the state Open Meetings Law this past week, Wayne County Commission Chairman Jack Best suggested the way to make sure he would not have to conduct business like discussing the choice of a new school board member in open session was to "change the law."

And here's why that should scare anyone who has decided in the last couple of years that keeping a closer eye on his or her government -- and wallet -- would be a really good idea.

The Open Meetings Law is not designed simply to make a newspaper's -- or other media outlet's -- job easier. It is designed to rein in politicians who over the years have proven that when left to their own devices, they can forget just whom they are there to serve.

To put it bluntly, power that is unwatched and unfettered can become means for personal gain, personal favors and political maneuvering that can cost taxpayers in the long run.

When the limits were first placed on government hundreds of years ago, it was to make sure that the fledgling colonies -- who were fresh off a battle with a monster power determined to make decisions without taking into consideration the will of the people -- would be able to remind those who were tasked with running their government just who was in charge.

Making sure governments could not have meetings or make decisions behind closed doors out of the eyeline of the people its members were supposed to be serving was a critical portion of that check and balance.

And that supervision is -- obviously -- still very important today.

It is funny how politicians are quick to promise open government and openness when they are campaigning and how quickly they are willing to sell both down the river when they are actually in the seat of power.

And, just for the record, Chairman Best, saying a process or a meeting is open is not the same thing as actually making it an open meeting.

Decisions that cannot be made in the light of day and that must be hustled into the shadows are often ones that should not be made in the first place.

In this age of concerns on a variety of levels from taxation to deficit spending, not to mention the potential for influence peddling at all levels of government, it is more important than ever that the people speak up and demand that their representatives adhere to the tenets of the Open Meetings Law.

The public has a right to know what decisions are being made on its behalf and should be more conscious than ever of politicians looking for ways to limit the information they receive.

So rather than support Mr. Best's assertion, we categorically reject it and suggest that perhaps a little more sunshine in politics and government is just exactly what Wayne County needs.

Published in Editorials on July 24, 2010 11:24 PM