You have a right to know:
• If there is a paroled sex offender living on your street, in your community or near the school your son or daughter attends;
• Who is giving what politician money and how much:
• What government leaders are saying to one another via email or in conference calls;
• How board members vote, even on paper ballot, on any number of local, state or even federal issues;
• Who is committing crimes, what sort and where;
• When any government body takes a vote — even a poll — out of the earshot of the public it serves or discusses issues behind closed doors that aren’t allowed to be talked about in secret;
• What salaries are being paid to government administrators;
• If there is an industry looking to locate in your area;
• What incentives government officials might be offering to that industry …
And the list goes on.
That right, even if the citizenry doesn’t always wish to flex that powerful muscle they have, is there and available any time anyone wishes to use it.
It should be a comfort to know that our laws protect us in such a way and offer us such a powerful insight into how government should be run and the manner in which the citizens’ business is being conducted, whether it’s at the local, state or national level.
Those rights are given to us by the very powerful Freedom of Information Act and through such laws as the N.C. Open Meetings Law, which govern transparency, openness and access to governmental meetings.
While it’s pretty apparent that journalists can be found complaining when a door is closed to a public meeting or access to documents is denied, surveys have shown that you, the public, is concerned too, particularly when it directly impacts something you want to know.
Isn’t it good, then, that the FOIA is there to help us gain the access we need — and have a right to — when we need it?
This week, designated each year as Sunshine Week, is designed to draw attention to FOIA and other laws that help shed light on governmental actions, and educate the public — and in many cases government officials themselves — to the right of citizens to know what government is doing, and how and why it is doing it.
It is our intent at The Sampson Independent to always raise awareness, to support open government and to ensure that everyone knows we are here to serve the public, helping them gain the access they need, and gaining access for them, reporting on information they should be armed with as they make decisions about their communities, their state and their nation.
As Americans, we believe strongly in our freedoms, and as a people are known for our openness. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with our leaders. They sometimes like to fall back on attempts to close the door to meetings, shut away documents and take the “mum’s the word” approach when responding to probing questions that will shed light on important aspects of how taxpayer money is spent and elected officials are taking care of the public’s business.
It is, after all, your business. And you have a right to details about it.