Magazine article The Masthead

Openness Erodes in Pieces. (Editors Note)

Magazine article The Masthead

Openness Erodes in Pieces. (Editors Note)

Article excerpt

Name any city, any state, any country. As you are reading this, someone somewhere is trying to strip the public of its right to know, its right to speak. Someone is trying to seal public records, close government meetings, or privately alter public policies.

We all have witnessed these incidents:

* School board members who shut out the public in the hiring of a superintendent.

* Federal officials who insist they have a right to discuss public policy without the nosy public knowing about it.

* Government bureaucrats who shut down Internet sites and make public records hard to find.

* Local council members who find the flimsiest excuse to meet in private or try to keep meeting agendas private.

Sometimes, efforts to avoid open-government laws can get downright funny. A few years ago, three newly elected small-town council members arrived at their first meeting and voted to fire the city manager and city attorney. To replace them, the new majority proposed two candidates -- who just happened to be in the audience and who -- just by coincidence -- had enough copies of their resumes to pass out to every council member. The new manager and attorney were hired. But disgusted voters later fired the council members.

More often, though, efforts to close government are more subtle and take place by piecemeal -- an amendment here, a special exception there.

In Florida, for example, state legislators filed more than 150 bills to close records or access to government during both this year's and last year's regular sessions. …

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