Recently, there have been disagreements between local government officials and the newspaper on the Times “right” to question their activities. It began with the question concerning the lack of movement, despite years of promises, on the Hill overpass and one-way issues. No movement still, by the way, and no answers to our question of why?

Following was the issue of the property purchase on Gornto Road for a park and community/senior center. Unlike other officials, Councilman Robert Yost took the time to visit the newspaper and explain his take on the issue, which is that it is a hard-fought for quality of life issue for his constituents and a positive thing for his district, and he was subsequently given the opportunity to express those opinions in the newspaper.

The Times is now questioning the closed SPLOST negotiation meetings. The next county-wide SPLOST referendum will take place in September, and rumors are already swirling around town of disagreements between officials on the proposed expenditures. The Times has learned of at least two and possibly three meetings which have already taken place between the city and county, but with no quorum present, the meetings have been unannounced and closed to the media.

By excluding the media, the governments are excluding all citizens and removing their right to hear how officials plan to divide the projected $180 million collected over five years from the one-cent sales tax. With less than three months before the referendum, the time is now to begin letting voters know what the projects are so they can make an informed decision in September.

The basic tenets of a democratic society are freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and individual rights. Citizens have the right to question their elected officials, as does the media, as it is the only way to hold them accountable for their actions while they are in office.

When governments actively practice censorship by excluding the media, when they close meetings, and when they question basic citizen rights to information, they are ignoring their constitutional mandate.

It’s the newspaper’s job as a free press and as citizens to question government actions, votes, decisions, and expenditures.

It’s the elected officials job to answer those questions, communicate openly with constituents and treat all citizens equally.

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