Sunshine on my shoulder
March 13, 2013
Happy National Sunshine Week! It was only year ago that I mistakenly thought this holiday was cause to get out the bathing suit and get my tan started. Now that I am wiser to the world of newspapers, I know that this week is a reminder that we live in a democratic society where our government is transparent. Or rather is supposed to be.
Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.
In the past year I have attended countless local government meetings (public meetings that anyone can attend), and to this day I am surprised at the number of times I have been told to “put down the pen” because the topic being discussed does not need to be known by you…the public.
Ironically, it happened again this week at a town meeting, and it happens all the time mostly at meetings where no visitor is present. However, rarely if ever, has anyone at a school board meeting asked me to put down the pen and the reason is probably because there is always an audience of parents, teachers, and visitors listening in to those proceedings.
However, hearing and understanding what is going on at a Jeff Davis School Board meeting is very difficult. The Board speaks in hushed, quiet tones as if they are all alone in the room. Most of the time I’m leaning forward in my chair straining to hear what is being said.
Learning the history of the topics at these meetings has not been easy. Even after a year, I still hear the Board of Supervisors talk about the Leo Street Building and I have no clue as to what is going on with that building. I can certainly ask, but there are so many other things to ask and learn about besides that.
Barely a journalist and certainly not an attorney, I don’t know always know what I should do, what is the right thing to do, when I am asked not to write something. To determine the answer, I simply ask myself, “Does the taxpayer need to know?” Sometimes they don’t. The Sheriff’s Department will ask me not to print something because of a pending investigation. The Economic Development office will ask for silence about a company potentially choosing our county as their new home.
With town and county governments we, the taxpayers, can know how much money is in the bank, how much water was used by a entire town last month, how many miles an officer put on car #6. It would stand to reason that anything that happens in a public meeting should be public knowledge.
Most of us could not care any less about the details of town and county government. We pay our taxes, we elect people to manage and take care of the day-to-day, and we go about our lives living, working, loving and doing the best we can. We just want the garbage man to pick up the trash. And we are ever so happy.
This weekly newspaper is certainly not about breaking news, and has even been compared to a history book, a simple documentation of occurrences. But it is our newspaper and besides hearsay, pretty much our only way of learning the details of our government. Good news or bad, everyone wants to know that their town or county affairs are in order. Elected officials were not hired to be a whipping post for all taxpayer grievances (even though it probably feels that way), and should feel free to share all.
And to the taxpayers: Government should not to be left to those we elect, but is for all of us to play an active role so that we work together to make our lives better.