Disinfectants are all the talk now thanks to mounting threats from the coronavirus. From recipes for homemade hand sanitizer to repeated pleas for people to wash hands with warm water, the nation is focusing on protecting people from a nasty, deadly illness.
Much of the information that people get comes through our free press, threatened in recent years by loss of business due to the Internet and attacks about fake news.
This week across the country, media organizations are focusing on another kind of disinfectant that’s just as powerful in protecting our way of life as the health precautions Americans are taking across the country. That disinfectant is the sunshine required to keep public information out in the open, not hidden in dark cubbyholes of government offices.
All too often, elected officials and those who work for governments become proprietary about their missions and jobs, forgetting they are, in fact, elected or employed by taxpayers who permit them to do what they do. What the government does, warts and all, should be in the open — in the sunshine — not in backrooms, in secret meetings or executive sessions.
Secrecy in government comes in multiple flavors. There is the “meeting before the meeting” in which a few key officials get together before a called public meeting to determine outcomes in secret. That seemed to be the case, for example, when the Charleston County Aviation Authority picked the chair of county council, Elliott Summey, to be the next executive director of the commission. It defies logic that backroom politics out of public scrutiny didn’t play a key role in that decision.
Then there’s the steering of public money to private organizations, which don’t have the same reporting requirements as governmental bodies that must meet Freedom of Information Act requirements. Or fiddling with provisions of law to charge exorbitant rates for information that shouldn’t cost a dime, particularly when technology makes it easy to digitize documents and automatically email them in a flash at virtually no cost. And then there’s the political dark money that some funders want to keep secret so people don’t find out how they’re trying to impact elections.
All of it is wrong. South Carolina needs to make open meetings and open records laws more stringent so taxpayers can have easy access to all government information. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get the information that is theirs in the first place. The work of government is not owned by preening bureaucrats or smarmy elected officials. It is public information — with emphasis on the word “public.”
Now, more than ever during national Sunshine Week, we encourage you to continue to support your local media however you can. Without adequate resources fueled through advertising and other revenue streams, there won’t be the free press and the free flow of information that citizens deserve.
These truly are times that try our souls. So disinfect. Your hands. Your homes. Your offices. And your governments. Otherwise our lives — and freedoms — are in danger.