The public’s business belongs in the public.
The movers and shakers we elect, and the men and women they appoint, hire and fire, all funded by tax dollars — our dollars — must be held accountable in the light of day.
The public’s business must be conducted openly and freely … not behind closed doors, away from scrutiny and appraisal.
We need and deserve open government — wide open.
This week we celebrate Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information — the public’s right to know.
As we celebrate and recognize the week, we do so by lending our strong support to two important open government bills introduced Thursday in Raleigh by Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-Wilmington.
Senate Bill 331 would revive the Sunshine Amendment, which would guarantee the public the right to inspect and copy public records and attend all public body meetings except those exempted by the General Assembly. The bill requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in each chamber to amend any law that covers access to public records and meetings. The North Carolina Press Association — of which the Daily Journal is a proud member — supported this bill in the last session and does so again stands tall again, happy to back any law that protects our Sunshine Laws from ongoing attacks and erosion.
Sen. Goolsby also filed Senate Bill 332, the Government Transparency Act, a bill designed to open access to more government personnel records — hiring, firing, performance records and other governmental records and meetings. NCPA supports this bill as well.
“What better way to celebrate Sunshine Week than to stand in support of two extraordinary bills aimed at preserving and strengthening North Carolina’s open government laws, and protecting every North Carolinian from losing their right to know what the government is doing in their name,” said Beth Grace, executive director of the North Carolina Press Association. “NCPA supports these bills and applauds Sens. Goolsby and Meredith for fighting to keep government open and accountable to all.”
There is another Goolsby bill about open government that we also support. SB 125 would give teeth to the state’s laws on public meetings and records, instead of relying on civil action to compel enforcement.
The bill would make any elected or appointed office holder who willfully denies access to public records or violates open meetings laws guilty of the lowest-grade misdemeanor. That’s punishable by community service on a first offense to a maximum of 20 days in jail after five or more convictions.
Goolsby said he filed the bill in response to local Alcoholic Beverage Control board meetings that had been closed to the public unlawfully and in which no minutes were kept for the public to review later.
Goolsby said there’s no way to punish those who close meetings unlawfully or deny access to public records.
The reality is that some government officials need a little incentive to comply with the law.