Let the Sun Shine in on Public’s Business

Whiting, Richard S-80x100By Richard S. Whiting
Executive Editor
Index-Journal, Greenwood, SC

Daylight Saving Time officially arrived today. People all across are rejoicing because this day, in a sense, signals the start to spring. At the very least, this day is the start of many days to come when a good number of people’s normal wakeup time will include a refreshing dose of sunlight.

And so it is only appropriate today is also the launch of Sunshine Week in South Carolina, a week set aside to promote and extol open government, transparency in government.

It is for you, the public.

It is for you, the taxpaying public.

It is for you, to whom the government is supposed to be accountable.

It is for you, to whom the government is supposed to be accessible.

Legislation that would have strengthened the state’s Freedom of Information Act, just one aspect of what creates an open and transparent government, was introduced last year by Aiken state Rep. Bill Taylor. Through a series of unfortunate events, including one at the last minute seeking to include putting lawmakers’ email in the public’s purview that appeared to be a legislative H.L. Hunley-styled attack on the legislation, the bill sank. But it was dredged up from the depths again this year and, while it has yet stalled again following a move Wednesday by state Rep. Mike Pitts to adjourn debate, there is hope this legislation will, pun intended, see the light of day and be passed. We hope the delay was for the reasons Pitts stated in Friday’s newspaper and not yet another bit of sabotage.

In essence, the legislation seeks to make costs for public information reasonable and, in some cases, non-existent. It also seeks to get public bodies to release public information in a more timely and reasonable manner. Again, for you, the public, the people who pay them to do your business.

Of course, there is far more to Sunshine Week than the state’s Freedom of Information Act. As readers know, lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley are working — although not wholly in sync — on making state government more transparent. It is as though “transparency” is today’s catch phrase in politics, even up to the White House, which could be a bit more transparent itself. “I’m in favor of transparency” is the new mantra, replacing “I’m in favor of education.” Yeah, who isn’t? It’s what you do toward improving education; it’s what you do toward making government transparent that really counts. But we’ll see what comes of the governor’s task force on transparency; we’ll see what our lawmakers in Columbia cobble together before the session ends.

There is a bit of irony to all this talk of transparency, though. OK, maybe it’s not so much irony as it is tragedy. Isn’t it a shame we are at a point where transparency and open government needs to be discussed at all? It should have already existed.

It is almost as though throughout the years layer after layer after layer of muck has covered the windshield of government, and we are all just now noticing it and scrambling (or pretending) to do something about it. And doing something has been excruciatingly slow.

Come to think of it, what we need is for government to operate like a pit crew. If you’ve ever watched a NASCAR race, you know what we’re talking about. Watch those guys rip a layer of film off the windshield so the driver has a clear view when he heads back on the track.

Instead, sadly, it seems too many in government are all too happy to hit the track, draft, bump and knock the public into the wall as they race around the track with their, not the public’s victory, victory in mind.

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