EDITORIAL/Sunshine Week: Freedom isn't free
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 1:00 PM
Exposing a secret $1.2 million county airport study is good for taxpayers, as is knowing the Department of Rehabilitation Services spent $30,000 to send 17 people to a conference in New York City.
All of that reporting is based on public records, but the public can never know enough about government.
This is 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.
Senate Bill 2507 that has passed both chambers would allow the Ethics Commission to enforce the state Public Records Act instead of only issuing advisory opinions.
Meanwhile, House Bill 928 would require agencies to use the lowest-paid qualified employee to review records, sometimes cutting charges for staff time.
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 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.