Rushville Republican

October 17, 2011

Our View: Public's right to know


Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — As state laws go, Indiana's Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act have left their dentures in the glass on the nightstand. Those laws lack the teeth they need to enforce them.

Throw a cigarette butt out the window of your car and you could be fined $25. Bar the public from what should be a public meeting and you get a verbal slap on the wrist, nothing more. That must change.

The Hoosier State Press Association, along with the Indiana Attorney General's office and newspapers around the state Ñ including The Times Media Co. Ñ had a series of free public access seminars this spring. But too few public officials took the opportunity to participate in those free sessions.

The majority of issues concerning possible violations of public access laws originate with local units of government. Those local governments' lobbyists continue to oppose legislation that would allow judges to levy a civil fine for deliberate violations of those laws.

That's why it's so important to vote for candidates whose commitment to complying with public access laws is clear.

This fall, citizens should ask candidates these questions and others to determine whether they truly have the public's best interest at heart:

n Are you familiar with what the Open Door Law, Access to Public Records Act and Public Notice Advertising Law require of local government?

n Given the fact that citizens may be fined for infractions, do you support giving judges the ability to fine local officials who deliberately violate the Open Door Law or Access to Public Records Act?

n Should local government units be required to send e-mail notification of meetings to citizens who request those individual notices?

n Should an unbiased entity, such as the state's public access counselor, be allowed to inspect original documents that have been redacted prior to public disclosure, to ensure that the blacking out of information is in compliance with the Access to Public Records Act?

n Given that surveys in several Midwestern states show citizens would be less likely to see public notices posted on government websites rather than published in local newspapers, do you support the continuation of public notice advertising in newspapers?

All of these questions are aimed at discerning whether the candidate is eager to open public access to government.

Candidates who seem to lean toward secrecy should be rejected. They are the ones most likely to quickly forget Abraham Lincoln's reminder that government is, "of the people, by the people, for the people."