Pretty much everyone who runs for public office sings the transparency refrain.
Then, something happens.
They get elected.
They change their tune.
Generally, the newly elected get things explained to them. They are told how business really gets done. They are told that if everything had to happen out in an open public meeting then nothing would ever get done. They are told to ignore the clamoring of the media to be open and transparent.
They are told how not to get caught breaking the law.
Open, transparent government is the law in Georgia.
County commissioners, school board members, city council members and every person who sits on a local authority, committee or commission is required to comply with open government laws.
A failure to comply can result in hefty fines and a record.
Hallway conversations, broad executive sessions, even electronic communications can all constitute violations of the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
We have even heard about newly elected officials being told by colleagues and lawyers that if they divulge what was discussed in executive session they are breaking the law and can be prosecuted.
That is just simply not true.
The law does not require executive sessions.
It allows them for certain, very specific, reasons.
If a member of an elected body chooses to divulge what is discussed behind closed doors because they believe the public has a right or need to know, and if they disclose in good faith, they cannot be held liable for doing so.
If fact, if unauthorized discussions happen during an executive session and they do not disclose it, they are violating the public trust and could even be fined and convicted of a misdemeanor for taking part in it and not coming clean.
It is astounding how people with good intentions run for public office, get elected and then get convinced that concealing the people’s business is just how public business is done.
Don’t believe it.
It is a lie.
All the business conducted by the board of education, the county commission, city council and ever other local authority, committee and commission is the people’s business and should be conducted out in the open.
If government is going to be of, by and for the people it must be — always must be — out in front of the people.
Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.