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3-21-05 Open Meetings & “Freedom of Press” - “In the Eye of the Beholder”

Freedom of the Press is a good thing.   However, the term is taking on new meaning. The Internet has opened vast opportunities for citizens to inform and be informed.  Newspapers are losing their commanding positions in “Opinion Setting” and that is not all bad.

AVOC

 

March 19, 2005

 

Open Meetings & “Freedom of Press” - “In the Eye of the Beholder”

 

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

 

For the last couple of weeks, many newspapers have editorialized on Open Government.  One gets all kinds of opinions.  When it comes to Openness in Government, media types can be demanding.  However, many of them are more reticent about inquiries into their motives and biases.

 

Freedom of the Press is a good thing.  However, the term is taking on new meaning. The Internet has opened vast opportunities for citizens to inform and be informed. Newspapers are losing their commanding positions in “Opinion Setting” and that is not all bad.

 

For years, I have heard complaints about bias, selective coverage, incomplete and inaccurate coverage in Oconee County.  I know of many incidents when that was and is true.   The owners of newspapers have agendas too.  Many respond to the Dollars that flow into advertising.  So Freedom of the Press does not mean we are getting the “real story”.

 

A citizens group in Jasper County is challenging its local weekly.   The names could be changed and some area residents would think it is their “hometown paper”.  AVOC realizes the challenges of publishing newspapers.  AVOC also acknowledges that there are some great weeklies in our area of the State.  However, we have our share of the bad too.


 

TWG, INC.

 

March 17, 2005

 

Why is the Monticello News So Excited About Sunshine Week?

 

The Monticello News has reported for the last two weeks that this week is “Sunshine Week” celebrating the Open Records and Open Meeting Laws.  The TWG is especially proud of those 2 laws and has used them to open up the government in Jasper County.  It was the TWG that reported the information on the City Grants that were used to fix up the ex-City Manager’s rental houses—not the Monticello News. 

 

It was the TWG that got Channel 11 and Jennifer Leslie to do a story on the problems citizens had trying to obtain open records and the numerous agenda additions at each BOC meeting.  The Monticello News never mentioned Channel 11 even attended the meeting or was in town. 

 

It was the TWG that got Kathryn Allen of the Attorney General’s office to speak with our old BOC in a work session about the importance of open meetings—this was after the secret meetings with Newton County concerning the Bear Creek Reservoir. 

 

It was the TWG that did the research on the Bear Creek Reservoir contract and reported what was going on about it; in fact we had to pay for a full page ad in the Monticello News to make sure the citizens of this county knew what was about to happen. 

 

Now our question is, why didn’t the Monticello News report anything about the WSB Whistleblower segment?  Will the Monticello News do some research on the Grant Money that the City has obtained for Funderburg Park?  What was the money spent on?  Will the News pressure the City to give that information? Everybody knows something has been wrong all along because after 6 years there is still no park and obviously no grant money left!  But nothing has ever been questioned about it in the Monticello News. 

 

There is now another, new $25,000 grant that the city has obtained to do all the things the other grants were suppose to pay for—walking trails, playground equipment, and a ball field.  Will the Monticello News keep an eye on this and report what is happening, how the money is being spent, who is getting paid, and what they are getting paid for?  We can celebrate Sunshine Week with an article once a year, or we can use it all year long to obtain “the inside story” on what is going on in our City and County government.

 

It would be great if the Monticello News reported all stories with the depth and zeal that the recent “County Commissioner’s expense reimbursement” story was reported.  The TWG has also looked at those records, and Commissioner Bernard requested around $50 of which $12 was reimbursable for out of County travel.  He has told us he will have the $50 check voided and resubmit an expense request for $12.  Commissioner Yarbrough has received his 2 checks, one for $43 and one for $46.  He needs to reimburse the county for the $46.  We are talking about less that $00 in expenses here; yet this was headline news—all the way across the top of the front page! 

 

Why hasn’t this kind of attention been given to Millions of Dollars in Grant money?  Why hasn’t it been reported that two commissioners and the County finance officer haven’t paid their property taxes (as of 3/10/05)?  These are the people that spend OUR money but yet don’t pay their own bills on time.

 

It seems that reports are either “in depth” or completely ignored depending on who it is rather than what should be reported to “let the Sunshine in.”

TWG, INC. 

Taxpayer Watchdog Group

P.O. Box 403

Monticello, GA 31064

 

706- 468-0569 FAX

 

www.taxdogs.com


The Jackson Herald

http://www.mainstreetnews.com/Arch/02/0227/Jack.html

 

February 27, 2002

 

(Jackson) BOC refuses to release courthouse site records

Herald sought documents about 157-acre deals


The Jackson County Board of Commissioners denied an open records request this week for documents related to the proposed purchase of 157 acres for a new county courthouse.


On Feb. 15, The Jackson Herald made the open records request for records, documents and letters related to four tracts of land that the county has taken an option to purchase. The purchase price for the land has been set at $.1 million.


“We made this request so we could inform the public in more detail about how the county arrived at the decision to purchase this land,” said Herald editor Mike Buffington. “The entire process of selecting this courthouse site has been done by the BOC in secret and even now, after they have selected the land and set the price, they continue to withhold information from the public.”


County attorney Daniel Haygood said that an exception in Georgia law allows the county to withhold the records until the property is officially purchased.


“The law states that the (real estate) exception exists until the transactions are closed,” said Haygood.


But David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association, disagreed.
“Once the option is signed and fixes the price, then there is no longer a justification for closing meetings or records on the transaction,” said Hudson.

Buffington pointed out that there is no law that requires the BOC to withhold the requested documents.
“The board can release the documents anytime it wants to — it’s totally their choice and they’ve chosen to keep the public in the dark,” he said.What good is the information to the public if the deal is already done before the board releases any details?”


Buffington said the newspaper made the request because the details of the proposed transaction are important for…


3-15-05 Sunshine Week –Open Government

 

The Macon Telegraph

http://www.macon.com/mld/telegraph/11114012.htm

 

March 13, 2005

 

Openness in government

By U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas)          
http://cornyn.senate.gov/

The celebration of our nation's first-ever national Sunshine Week is, at its essence, a celebration of our nation's founding principles.

The Declaration of Independence makes clear that our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be secured only where "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And James Madison, the father of our Constitution, famously wrote that consent of the governed means informed consent-that "a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Our founders thus firmly believed that a free society cannot exist without an informed citizenry and an open and accessible government. That is why the cause of open government has been a top priority throughout my time in public service. As Attorney General of Texas, I was charged with the important responsibility of enforcing and maintaining openness in Texas government. Open government advocates have long recognized that Texas's open government laws are stronger and more robust than federal open government laws.

Just last month, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a longtime champion of open government at the federal level, and I joined forces to introduce the OPEN Government Act of 2005, to strengthen and enhance our federal open government laws. It has been nearly a decade since Congress has approved major reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). And the Senate Judiciary Committee has not convened an oversight hearing to monitor compliance with FOIA since 1992.

So this week, I will chair a Senate hearing to examine needed improvements to our open government laws.

The legislation we introduced contains important Congressional findings to reiterate and reinforce our belief that the Freedom of Information Act establishes a presumption of openness, and that our government is based not on the need to know, but upon the fundamental right to know. In addition, the bill contains more than a dozen substantive provisions, designed to strengthen FOIA and close loopholes, help FOIA requestors obtain timely responses to their requests, ensure that agencies have strong incentives to act on FOIA requests in a timely fashion, and provide FOIA officials with all of the tools they need to ensure that our government remains open and accessible.

Moreover, our legislation is not just pro-openness, pro-accountability, and pro-accessibility - it is also pro-Internet. It requires government agencies to establish a hotline to enable citizens to track their FOIA requests, including Internet tracking, and grants the same privileged FOIA fee status currently enjoyed by traditional media outlets to bloggers and others who publish reports on the Internet.

The OPEN Government Act is the culmination of months of extensive discussions between my office, Sen. Leahy's office, and various members of the requestor community. After all, open government is not a Republican or a Democrat issue; it is an American issue. Indeed, the bill is supported by a broad coalition of open government advocates and organizations across the ideological spectrum as well as by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Open government is a fundamental principle of our democracy.   As President Lincoln once said, "no man is good enough to govern another without that person's consent"-and of course, consent is meaningless if it is not informed consent. For that very reason, the cause of open government is as American as our commitment to constitutional democracy.

Cornyn, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Texas and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


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