Today’s Column — Caring About Openness

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is pretty sure you don’t give a rip about government transparency.Asked about the fate of bills stuck in the Legislature that would toughen open meetings and records laws, the Des Moines Democrat channeled Bogart and said it’s the press, baby, the press, and only the press that wants them passed.

“The press is probably the No. 1 constituency for it. To be very frank with you – in fact, I’ve never been lobbied by a citizen on the issue,” McCarthy told Radio Iowa.

It’s true. Most people don’t care. McCarthy doesn’t care, or else he’d get something passed and stop making excuses.

A bill in the Senate, SF 161, toughens open meetings rules to discourage secret deliberations by sneaky local officials and sets up a five-member panel to make sure laws are enforced.

House Study Bill 234 is weaker, establishing a 16member “advisory” panel dominated by local government groups, the same groups now lobbying to make sure nothing passes.

The Iowa League of Cities opposes both. The city of Cedar Rapids and Linn County are registered “undecided” on the House version. I guess they’re not sure if more openness is good.

Opponents love to portray this issue as being all about reporters playing gotcha with well-meaning elected officials. Poor dears, like Spirit Lake school board members who got slapped with fines for holding a meeting 200 miles away from home in a Des Moines hotel lobby. They also went into closed session to talk about a superintendent search and held a budget debate instead. That’s a budget paid for by residents, the ones on the other side of the door.

Maybe you do think this is media’s battle to fight.
Well, I’ve got some news for you, folks. Tougher laws are needed now more than ever.

Why? The news media that have been doing your fighting now are fighting for their economic survival. I’m not saying watchdog reporting is dead. But news organizations are being forced to get leaner. Staffs and budgets are shrinking. It will affect what gets covered and how much digging is done.

This is especially true in many small towns, where weekly papers are struggling, merging and folding.

Small papers with tiny staffs are covering multiple communities. There’s no way to watch everything closely.

So that puts residents like you on the front lines.

And your only real weapons are state laws that require public officials to conduct business in the open where taxpayers can watch.

But under the toothless system, residents who want laws enforced face indifference from city and county attorneys and even the Attorney General’s Office.

Government lawyers, paid by government officials, have a hard time prosecuting cases against government. You don’t fine the hand that feeds you.

That’s why we need an enforcement panel that will take resident complaints and do something about them. This is the last thing local elected officials want.

They want to sneak around behind the comfort of a closed door and work out public policy without public scrutiny. They call that “brainstorming.” I call it gutless and wrong.

We need legislative action. And if I were you, I’d start giving a rip about it.

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

9 responses to “Today’s Column — Caring About Openness

  1. Jan Kvach

    I read your article entitled “Why you need to care about openness” I agree. What are the names and numbers of the bills that you think need to be passed? Is there a way that regular citizens can get these off of the state website?

  2. Tim S

    I agree with McCarthy. Sorry, but 99.9% of citizens could care less about the openness of Govt. If the media didn’t push it, it would die and go away. Truth be told, alot of people love it when the Des Moines Register / Clark Kauffman and the Cedar Rapids Gazette are told to take a hike by Gov. Culver and his cronies in Govt. I think things were much better when most of the govt decisions were made behind closed doors and without the media sticking their noses in everything. I have had several relatives in Govt at local, state and federal levels. They all say most of the “Deals” were worked out over drinks, far away from cameras and recorders. The “Open” meetings were just a show, with the outcome already known. Now, alot of the deals are made on private cellphones and private e-mail accts that the Register and it’s resident weasel Kauffman, can’t get at.

  3. tdorman

    Please, do me a favor Tim. Never run for public office.

  4. Deb

    Tim is wrong, and so is Majority Leader McCarthy. VERY wrong.
    The fact is that the citizens DO care about transparency very much, but often don’t pursue it because the laws are set up to make it very difficult for a citizen to DO anything about non-compliance. I can tell you that I’ve personally been involved in more than one effort to try and get accurate (complete) information regarding city business, and the process is so complex that by the time you get anywhere, it’s too late anyway. I shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer and sue, or get the county attorney to do it, just to get public information. Even using the Ombudsmans office is an unwieldy exercise.
    Toughening the laws is an absolute plus…but it’s not enough. We also need the law to make it easier for joe on the street to get the information he nelieves is not forthcoming, without cost and a 6 month process.

    People CARE. Mr. Speaker. They care a lot. Perhaps you just don’t want to hear what they are saying.

  5. Deb

    Tim is wrong, and so is Majority Leader McCarthy. VERY wrong.
    The fact is that the citizens DO care about transparency very much, but often don’t pursue it because the laws are set up to make it very difficult for a citizen to DO anything about non-compliance. I can tell you that I’ve personally been involved in more than one effort to try and get accurate (complete) information regarding city business, and the process is so complex that by the time you get anywhere, it’s too late anyway. I shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer and sue, or get the county attorney to do it, just to get public information. Even using the Ombudsmans office is an unwieldy exercise.
    Toughening the laws is an absolute plus…but it’s not enough. We also need the law to make it easier for joe on the street to get the information he believes is not forthcoming, without cost and a 6 month process.

    People CARE. Mr. Speaker. They care a lot. Perhaps you just don’t want to hear what they are saying.

  6. Tim S

    Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to run for office. The pay is not enough and I would not want to deal with the public or worse, the media.

  7. Kathy

    The speaker is very wrong. I care. The five adults in our household care. I believe a lot of the public cares but do nothing about it because the press has been fighting the battle. It’s long been felt that you guys would be able to win. It’s time for “we the people” to stand up and take responsibility for making our elected officials to be accountable to us. If it were up to some of these guys today the Constitution would be a protected document that only a few privileged individuals would have a right to even read.

  8. Martha Not-Stewart

    I just emailed my state legislators about the open meeting and open records bills. I hope that they realize some of us do care about such things! Thanks Mr. Dorman for posting this information!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s