Trust, but Verify (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Mar. 13, 2017 12:00 am  

Do you trust your lawmakers and public servants — without reservation, completely and absolutely — to always do what’s best for Arkansans, never once putting their interests ahead of those of the citizens?

If you said “yes,” we’ll have some of what you’re drinking.

If “no,” you probably think along our lines, that most legislators and government workers are trying to do what’s right for the state, but even the best-intentioned can be wrong.

As for the worst-intentioned, they slip in among the others from time to time, revealed only by the occasional indictment, the efforts of a public-minded gadfly or the work of the press.

This week is Sunshine Week, when the American Society of News Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and others celebrate access to public information and open government. It’s timely, considering that the 91st General Assembly has been busily chipping away at the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, already less robust than it was when it was a national model 50 years ago.

Ten bills have been proposed that would weaken public access to government records. One bill would let public agencies delay producing public documents from the current three days to essentially forever if doing so would be “unduly burdensome.” Another would let public agencies keep secret any documents that they say constitute “attorney-client communication or attorney work product,” which, if employed less than honestly, could conceivably seal any documents viewed by a lawyer.

On the plus side for open government, however, is state Rep. Jana Della Rosa’s successful effort — Act 318 — to require candidates to submit electronic campaign finance reports rather than letting them file paper reports, making it much easier to track big money in political campaigns.

Remember: The public access to information celebrated by Sunshine Week remains essential to keeping government accountable to you, the people.



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