EDITORIAL/Public's right to know
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:00 AM
Knowing the Department of Rehabilitation Services spent $30,000 to send 17 people to a conference in New York City is good for taxpayers, as is exposing a secret $1.2 million airport study contract in Madison County.
All of that reporting is based on public records, but the public can never know enough about government.
Last week was Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government and transparency.
It's an opportunity to open dialogue between the public and those in power over what it means to live in a free and transparent society.
Mississippi is doing a good job.
House Bill 928 that will require agencies to use the lowest-paid qualified employee to review records, sometimes cutting charges for staff time was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2507 that would allow the Ethics Commission to enforce the state Public Records Act instead of only issuing advisory opinions is on track for approval.
The importance of open government is paramount, as is access.
It's the right of the people to know what their government is doing and for journalists across the country to be able to disseminate that information to the masses freely.
The availability of open records has allowed the Madison County Journal to provide details of the top-secret $1.2 million airport study commissioned by the Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA).
The news broke on Feb. 20 as MCEDA office staff first prevented the examination of board minutes on multiple occasions.
It took their attorney, under pressure of the law, to finally open the records.
On the national level, President Obama says on the White House web site, "My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government." But that is a lie.
Transparency issues persist with the Obama Administration.
In recent years, most agencies have not fully complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements, according to The Washington Post.
An Associated Press analysis of federal data found that the Obama administration has grown more secretive over time, last year censoring or outright denying FOIA access to government files more than ever since Obama took office, the Post said.
The Mississippi Legislature has in recent years, for the most part, advocated transparency. Penalties are stiffer and they hit the people personally responsible for violations, not the government agency.
Freedom isn't free, but it's part of what makes America exceptional and allows the sun to shine in on government.