The words transparency and government don’t always go together, but part of our job here at The Brunswick News is to make sure that it does. That’s why The News is proud to join with other media outlets and groups across the country in celebrating Sunshine Week.
For those who don’t know, Sunshine Week is when the press and advocates shine a light on government transparency. But this week is not just about members of the press telling you why Sunshine Laws are important for us to do our jobs. All citizens have a right to know that their government is doing business in the light of day instead of making deals in the shadows away from public scrutiny.
Governments continue to struggle when it comes to transparency, particularly our state government. When we wrote about Sunshine Week two years ago, we did so by writing about our support for the state Senate spending $485,000 to outfit its chambers to stream committee meetings.
This move has been an invaluable resource for us not only in bringing our readers comprehensive coverage of meetings and debates for the legislative session currently taking place under the Gold Dome, but it allows anyone with a viable internet connection to watch the debate.
But we learned this week that progress continues to be slow up in Atlanta when it comes to true transparency.
The state House Government Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 77 that deals with the controversial topic of moving historical monuments. Most of the talk though about the legislation happened Tuesday in subcommittee. The room in which the subcommittee meeting was held is one wired for livestreaming. It has been used so frequently for that purpose that there is a link to the stream from Room 341, also referred to as the Appropriations Room, on the General Assembly’s homepage.
Of course, the technology only works if someone actually turns it on. Out of the eight meetings held Tuesday in Room 341, only two of them were actually broadcast. To see the other six meetings, you had to physically be there.
If it wasn’t for state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, livestreaming the subcommittee meeting on Facebook, nobody would have known what happened in the subcommittee meeting on the historical monuments bill.
In fact, it is a rarity for a subcommittee meeting to be broadcast. The problem is that subcommittees are where the sausage is made when it comes to a lot of these bills. The public deserves to see that, especially when that subcommittee meeting takes place in a room that has been enhanced for that specific purpose.
If you are wondering why Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing was important, consider this fact. The sponsor of S.B. 77, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, wasn’t available to be at Wednesday’s committee meeting. He was, however, at Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting. If Rep. Cannon hadn’t livestreamed the event, people would not have been able to see the bill’s sponsor explain why the bill was necessary.
Not livestreaming any committee or subcommittee meetings that take place in an environment wired for that particular purpose is a slap in the face of Georgia citizens whose tax dollars paid to make the upgrades possible.
There’s nothing transparent about a government that puts the technology in place to make government more open, then refuses to use it for that purpose. Don’t allow governments to just pay lip service to transparency. Let them know you deserve to know how the sausage is made.