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Front Page » July 19, 2005 » Opinion » Openness not a silly notion of the press
Published 3,390 days ago

Openness not a silly notion of the press


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By RICHARD SHAW
General manager

Many people who live in this area don't trust the federal government very much. In fact, in my life of living in many different places, people generally don't trust the national guys to give us true information.

That's a sad commentary on our times. While we may like a politician we elected, we don't see that our national government is "for the people."

But what about local governments from state officials right down to those that decide on such things as water projects and local laws?

In a recent survey of American newpaper publishers, editors and senior press association executives, the concensus emerged said that the words and actions of the federal government usually sets the tone for local governmental agencies.

Does that mean the secrecy in the oval office leads to stealth in the commission or council chambers?

Looking at surveys and analysis, Utah has one of the most open local governmental operations in the country. And Carbon County and the towns within it have been pretty much an open book to the Sun Advocate when we need information. When working with local officials most of us here feel little need to suspect any kind of information is being held back. We are lucky because judging by what I have seen and heard from journalists in other areas of the state, that isn't true everywhere.

One of the things we watch like a hawk are meetings. Public officials are supposed to have open meetings anytime there is a quorum of officials present, except in cases of personnel issues and litigation. Unfortunately in some places other issues sometimes get on the table at those meetings as well. And some government officials think that an executive session means it is open season to discuss things that they don't want anyone to know about. Luckily we don't seem to have that problem in our county too much.

Last year I decided I would do some research on writing an article on salary comparisons across the county for city, county and state agencies. Most of the human resource and accounting offices I walked into were very friendly to me and provided the information quickly. Only two asked for any kind of written inquiry, and only one asked me to fill out a GRAMMA (Government Records Access and Management ACT) request. While no one charged us anything for any of the requests, one of the ways some agencies in other places discourage people from asking is to charge high fees for reproducing the documents. Some too are adding more and more time onto obtaining those same pieces of information.

As a community newspaper it is our duty to encourage openess in goverment operations. It is also our duty to see that information is accessable as possible. Now some citizens may not see the importance of this, but if one looks at closed governments around the world they can see that living under regimes that don't allow information to be distributed to its citizens is relative to the personal freedoms the people of those countries possess.

In actuality, the free flow of information about government and from the government is one of the core values of our country. However, just as veterans complain about how people forget about those who lost their lives in the defense of our nation, open government could become a similar casualty if citizens, and the press, are not vigilant.

In the survey I saw some interesting comments about freedom of information and open meeting laws from various journalists. However the one that made the most sense to me was a quote from Larry Jackson of the Journal-Spectator in Wharton, Texas when he spoke about how citizens should feel about open meetings and information.

"Hey, it's your company. You own it. You are a stockholder. So don't you think you ought to know how it is run?"

The fact is that government, local, state or federal, that tries to deprive citizens of information and access to importnat decisions, is committing the ulitmate sin of being un-American.


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July 19, 2005
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