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SUNSHINE WEEK: Open government is good government

This week is national Sunshine Week.

Why should the issue of government transparency matter to our readers?

Simply speaking, government cannot be of, by and for the people unless it is before the people.

It should never be forgotten that government belongs to the governed, not the governing.

Whether talking about the federal government in Washington, D.C., the General Assembly in Atlanta, the county commission, the school board or city council, government does not know better than the citizens it represents.

Those elected to office should never usurp the will of the public or assume they know more about what is right for their community than the public at large.

We do not elect officials to think for us.

We elect them to represent us.

Holding elected office should not be viewed as being placed in a position of authority and privilege, but rather is a position of service.

The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These words are primary to our entire form of government.

All real power belongs to the governed, citizens, and not to the governing, elected officials.

Information is power. When government officials hold all the information they retain power.

When citizens have access to information they are empowered.

The problem, however, is that citizens and the media have become accustomed to looking the other way while too many officials have become accustomed to looking out for themselves.

Open government is good government, or at least it is better government.

As we champion open and transparent government in our county, we are not “against” elected officials.

Rather, we are “for” citizens.

Government should always be fully accountable to citizens and when the public’s business is being done behind closed doors or when documents are concealed, there is no accountability.

Public service is not private business.

In private enterprise, a chief executive officer or a board of directors must answer to their stockholders.

In public service, elected officials must answer to their stakeholders — citizens.

We encourage elected officials to look at the issue of government transparency as a citizen and not as an elected official.

Every decision you are making, even decisions about public employees, land deals and lawsuits are decisions that you are only empowered to make by virtue of the fact you have been elected to serve the public.

You are doing the public’s business and the general public has a right to know about its own business.

— Editor Jim Zachary