ZACHARY: Promising transparency doesn't make it so

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

During the statewide shutdown, the Georgia legislature has been mostly shuttered as well, and campaigning for state office has been put on hold. 

As soon as the General Assembly reconvenes, passes pending bills and a drastically trimmed state budget, then closes out the 2020 session, campaigning will begin in earnest. 

When the stumping begins, listen closely and what you will hear is everyone running for state office promising government transparency and what they call an open door policy. 

History has proven that when it comes to these kinds of campaign pledges that promises are made to be broken. 

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

Open government is not a progressive or a liberal platform and neither party has a great track record when it comes to complete transparency. 

Openness in government is not liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, independent or Libertarian.

The minority party is always the champion of transparency right up until the time it becomes the majority party. 

Politicians stump on transparency and are all about open access, until they have something they want to keep secret. The need for more openness in local, state and federal government transcends parties and political ideologies. 

Elected 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 and that is so common that it is just seen as business as usual — the way things are done. 

The public has the right to know how its business is being conducted and how its money is being spent.

Decisions made, dollars doled out and records stored by city hall, county commission, the board of education and the Georgia General Assembly belong to all of us — liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, independents, Libertarians and everyone else. 

All the people of Georgia are stakeholders and have a vested interest in open meetings and public records. 

All of us should care deeply about transparency issues even if we can't agree on anything else when it comes to politics. 

The lack of and need for true government transparency should be about the most bipartisan cause that exists.

Elected officials committed to public service should 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.

The press keeps an eye on government, exposing clandestine actions and in response journalists are often ridiculed, belittled and called names by elected officials themselves, simply because they are doing their jobs and working hard to keep government honest by leveraging public access laws.

The public should understand those same laws that guarantee access to government documents and actions are not just a media right.

 It is all about the public's right to know. 

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

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