South Carolina municipal governments have a solid adviser in their court and the municipalities would do well to listen. And read.
The Municipal Association of South Carolina produces a regular magazine, Uptown, that is available to all municipal governments. Anyone who serves in elected or appointed positions in cities and towns across the Palmetto State would be wise to get the magazine, regularly reference the organization’s website — masc.sc — and heed the wisdom MASC shares. Really, much of what MASC outlines for municipal governments is what should be followed by all elected boards in the state.
The March edition contained a special section on open government. One article, “A requisite for good government,” includes conversations with newspaper reporters who, all too often, are viewed as the enemy. In this case, not the enemy of the people, but rather of government.
“We’re not the enemy,” Greenville News reporter Caitlin Herrington is quoted as saying. “We’re not there to destroy the way the public views you or to ruin your political career.”
She adds: “The flip side of that same point is we’re not your partner. We work for the public. Our readership is who we are looking out for.”
Isn’t that an interesting point? Much of what reporters do is on behalf of the public, its readership, while all of what elected and appointed government does is the public’s business. We serve the same clientele, but that is often forgotten by public officialdom when it busies itself with trying to secret public information.
That can explain the addition of PIOs — public information officers — in government circles. The irony is that they’re labeled public information officers when, in fact, they are often hired for the purpose of hiding, spinning or delaying the public’s right to know.
As we noted during Sunshine Week — and really, it should be year-round because all year every year there are public officials who behave as vampires, thinking they should operate in darkness — the state’s Freedom of Information Act is not a tool for journalists, it’s for the public. It’s just that journalists, more often than not, have the capacity to use the tool in bringing public information to light.
You, the public, have the right to know who your school board hired and fired.
You have the right to know what ordinance your city or town council is considering.
You have the right to know why and how a mayor of a town can issue a check for a major purchase ahead of an official vote by council.
You have a right to — well, let’s just say you have a right to know a hell of a lot more than they have a right to hide.
Stand up for your rights. We are right there with you.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 864-943-2522; email email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.