Openness in government is not a liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Independent, TEA party or Libertarian issue. The importance of transparency in local, state and federal government should transcend parties and political ideologies.
Checks and balances provide few checks and little balance when officials broker deals behind closed doors and conceal documents that contain important information that citizens have the right, and often the need, to know.
Local government has the biggest impact in the lives of citizens on a day-to-day basis. Whether it is in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, personal property taxes, business taxes, state-shared dollars or federal grants, loans and funding, local government is 100 percent taxpayer funded. The decisions being made, the monies being spent and the records being kept by city hall, the county commission, the board of education or the utility district all belong to liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, TEA party volunteers, Libertarians and even politically disinterested individuals. All stakeholders have a stake in open meetings and public records and should care about transparency issues.
Bipartisanship is like the weather – everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. The difference is while a person can’t change the weather, officials could choose to work together. The lack of and need for true government transparency should be truly be a bipartisan cause. Any elected officials who truly care about public service in a real and meaningful way and fully understand what a representative form of government is all about, should not only champion openness in government, but should be the most effective watchdogs, looking out for the public trust.
Sadly, those kinds of elected officials are hard to find. We encourage those officials who do care and who do understand to become a part of the transparency project and enhance their public service.
Jim Zachary is director of the Transparency Project of Georgia and the Tennessee Transparency Project.