DomeLIght

DomeLight by CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary 

Politics is broken. 

It is uncertain whether it can ever be repaired. 

The political landscape is more polarized than ever and conservatives and progressives have little in common. 

Still, transparency — keeping the light on the people’s business — ought to be something everyone can agree on regardless of party affiliation. 

However, we have even found ways to be partisan about transparency and the public's right to know. Conservatives want to reveal the secrets of liberals and liberals want to expose the actions of conservatives. Government transparency is not a liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent, Libertarian or freedom caucus issue.

So why is it that the minority party is the champion of transparency until it becomes the majority party? 

Every politician stumps pledging to be transparent and open, until they are in office and have something they want to hide. 

The need for transparency in local, state and federal government transcends parties and political ideologies.

There are essentially no checks and balances when officials broker deals behind closed doors and conceal documents that contain important information that the public has the right, and often the need, to know.

It is at the local level where government has the biggest impact in our lives on a day-to-day basis. For example, whether it is property taxes, sales taxes, business taxes, state-shared dollars or federal grants, loans and funding, local government is 100% taxpayer funded and the public always has the right to know how its money is being spent.

Decisions being made, dollars being doled out and records being kept by city hall, the county commission, the board of education or the utility district belong to all of us. 

Elected officials should embrace open government and champion the public's right to know, instead of trying to find ways to get around it. 

Newspapers work hard, trying to keep an eye on government and expose clandestine actions of government. Journalists are often ridiculed, belittled and even threatened for just doing their jobs, as they work to keep government honest by making use of access laws, and that is unfortunate. 

The right to know is not a media right — it is everyone's right. It is your right.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times and president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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