Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Open Government; It's All about the People

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Open Government; It's All about the People

Article excerpt

You should have been there Thursday while the incoming mayor, City Council members and other elected officials spent the morning hearing about Florida's open government laws.

Actually, thanks to those very laws, members of the public were welcome to drop in and listen.

This is government by and for the people.

And thanks to laws that are described as the best in the state, Jacksonville citizens have more chances than most to take part in their government.

Most improvements in open government laws came after years of work or some traumatic event.

Jacksonville's pathbreaking Sunshine Law Compliance Act came after a yearlong investigation. The Times-Union's newsroom and editorial page staff revealed a culture of disrespect for many of the elements of Florida's Sunshine Laws - poor meeting notices, meetings held in out-of-the-way places and minutes that were painfully inadequate.

Florida has a proud tradition of open government that dates to 1905. The laws have been beefed up since 1967 by a series of state statutes, Constitutional Amendments, court rulings and attorney general opinions.

Critics say the laws are too stringent, that it's too difficult to do business in government.

Well, the speediest form of government is a dictatorship. Government needs to give the people a chance to take part. And involving your constituents in major decisions usually produces better, more lasting outcomes.

GOOD QUOTES

There is no "I'm an important public official exemption" to the state laws that restrict gifts, said Deputy General Counsel Steve Rohan. The danger point is $100 for gifts.

In fact, Rohan said, the best practice for public officials is to not take any gifts. If a situation looks awkward, ask the city ethics office or the general counsel's office for advice. Most situations can be resolved if they are handled quickly.

As usual, it's the coverup that generally is the most trouble.

And public officials should never use this line: "Do you know who I am?" That implies a request for a special favor, which puts an official on the road to trouble. …

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