February 28, 2012
There are times when one has to really look hard to find something blog-worthy in government. Let's face it. Unless it's scandelous or felonious few tend to pay much attention at all on how their local and state government operate.
This is not one of those times.
Monday, members of the Georgia House's Judiciary subcommittee convened to discuss, among other things, a bill that retool's Georgia's Open Government laws.
These are the laws that, in all honesty, allow you, the constituency, to know what the heck is going when the people you elected meet.
The laws also government what access you as a member of the public have to documents, e-mails, maps, recordings and videos created by your elected and appointed leaders.
So how ironic is it that, as the meeting prepares to start to discuss how "open" government in the state of Georgia can be, that the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Wendell Willard, a Republican from Sandy Springs, offers a motion to ban all cameras from the meeting. The motion passed with only one dissenting vote --- Rep. Roger Bruce, an Atlanta Democrat, who reportedly said he believed tossing photographers out of the meeting violated the first amendment provisions in the U.S. Constitution and could not support the measure.
Willard justified his motion by pointing to a hearing last week in which the committee heard testimony related to a bill handling employee discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Video of that testimony was posted on the popular video website YouTube with viewers posting derogatory comments criticizing and threatening the witness.
To further push the irony train down the tracks, the changes to the "Sunshine Laws" that the committee passed does little to tear down the Georgia General Assembly's massive exemption to the laws on itself.
You heard that right folks.
The people who decide how much access you have to your own government, have a blanket exemption to the law preventing you, me, or anyone else from demanding that they keep their proceedings open, honest and transparent.
The mere fact that this committee could vote to toss out anyone based merely on the fact that there might be criticism of a person or provision of the law is an abomination to a free and Democratic society.
In 1822, President James Madison said, "A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both."
The public relies on it's constitutionally-protected messengers, the press, to watch its government. To report what action is taken and what impact it might have on them.
Rep. Willard's actions Monday, and those of the committee, are paradoxical to the idea that the government operates only at the whim and pleasure of its people and is, perhaps, the purest example why all levels of government, not just your city commissions and county commissions, should be answerable to the people.