EDITORIAL: Fox-like hens: It's been proven over and over -- government cannot police itself
By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on April 23, 2013 1:46 PM
You kind of always wonder if they really think it as you watch those you elected to office ignore the instructions you sent along with them to the statehouse, county commission office, the governor's mansion or the halls of Congress.
You wonder, "Do they really care what I think?" "Do they remember who put them in office?"
This week, Sen. Tommy Tucker answered that loud and clear.
His words say it all: "I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet."
If there was ever an argument for opening up government and forcing legislators and public officials at all levels to answer for their opinions, discussions and actions, that's it -- all contained in those 13 words.
Tucker's angry response came after a discussion concerning the publication of legal notices with a local newspaper publisher you know very well.
Tucker thinks it is enough for a public body to advertise notices of meetings, ordinances, zoning -- anything that might come before them -- on that government body's website, hidden behind pages of government gobbledygook and public relations camouflage. They know you don't go there and they do not care. If this bill passes, that notification of what they are doing will be enough. It will be up to you to find it.
Hal Tanner III, and many publishers of newspapers across the state and the North Carolina Press Association, disagree -- and they challenged that premise.
And that question -- along with a hurriedly adjourned meeting after what can only be described as a shady at best voice vote to move the bill along to full Senate consideration -- is what sparked the exchange.
It is true, newspapers receive revenue from public notices -- and some will discount the openness argument with that retort.
But the publishing of notices is not a subsidy so newspapers can exist. It is not a gift. It is a payment for a service -- and a valuable one at that. We disseminate information to thousands of residents daily in our news columns and online.
And keeping that information public and in as many hands as possible is as much a check and balance as the branches of government and the public's right to know.
It is how we keep governments -- politicians -- honest.
That is really the crux of this argument -- for this newspaper and for many others across the state.
We know what happens when governments limit access, control information and have a threat to hold over the watchdogs' heads.
Tucker proved that with his response to polite questions about his stance.
Governments that are left to their own devices -- and that seek to control their own information dissemination -- believe their own press.
They don't think they have to answer to the constituency -- and they begin to develop a "god" concept if you will. They make decisions with little public input -- proposals pop up for a vote with little to no public discussion -- and they hold discussions and meetings that barely meet the minimums required by law.
And if you have been following the escapades of the Wayne County commissioners, you have seen that sort of behavior firsthand.
They think they know best. They make the decisions, and we just have to trust them.
That is why we have to make rules -- so we know.
We want there to be as many options as possible for you to know what is going on in your community. Newspapers across the state have offered a compromise bill -- acknowledging that right now times are tough. House Bill 723, supported by the N.C. Press Association, would cap the amount newspapers could charge for legals, require newspapers to publish public notices on their websites for free and give a price reduction when notices have to be run more than once.
Sounds fair, doesn't it?
And then, if a government agency wants to go even further to make sure its message is offered in as many places as possible, go ahead, publish the notices on their website, too.
As government gets larger, it is critical that there is more and more openness.
We would have thought that the Republicans -- and many Democrats -- we sent to Raleigh would champion the public before the interests of government. They should condemn any senator or other public official who defiles the very heart of their party's credo -- individual rights, freedom and liberty -- government by the people and for the people and not at the expense of the people.
Thank goodness we have several who model that message who serve Wayne and adjoining counties.
Now, all we have to do is remind the Republican leadership of what put them in Raleigh in the first place.