Free Editorials

Transparency Project of Georgia features editorials written by award-winning editorial writer and open government advocate Jim Zachary and fellow advocate James Zachary, that can be republished free of charge. 

GOVERNMENT DOES NOT KNOW BEST

Government does not always know best.

In fact, it seldom does.

Government cannot be of, by and for the people unless it’s before the people.

It should never be forgotten that government belongs to the governed, not the governing.

Whether talking about the federal government in Washington D.C., the General Assembly in Atlanta, the county commission, the school board, or city council, government does not know better than the citizens it represents.

Those elected to office should never usurp the will of the public or assume they know more about what is right for their community than the public at large.

We do not elect officials to think for us.

We elect them to represent us.

That is what is meant by the word “republic,” a representative form of government.

Given a choice between the will of elected officials and the will of ordinary citizens, we should always defer to the people.

The people we elect should never be so audacious so as to abridge the rights and interests of citizens.

Public service is not autocratic rule.

Being elected to office should not be viewed as being placed in a position of authority and privilege.

The Declaration of Independence, provides, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These words are primary to our entire form of government.

All real power, belongs to the governed, citizens, and not to the governing, elected officials.

We have protections in place, laws, to prevent a governing class from seizing power away from citizens.

The problem, however, is that citizens and the media have become accustomed to looking the other way while officials have become accustomed to looking out for themselves.

Then intention of a public servant should never be to simply do what is necessary to get re-elected.

Their intention should always be to adequately, competently and ethically represent the interests of the citizens they are elected to serve.Written by Jim Zachary, originally published Henry Daily Herald, Nov. 29, 2013. Jim Zachary is an award winning editorial writer, longstanding advocate for open government, featured speaker at Tennessee Press Association and Georgia Press Institute and creator of both  the Tennessee Transparency Project and the Transparency Project of Georgia. ***********************

Legislation by loophole is a violation of the public trust

Some big corporate fat cat finds loopholes in the tax code and pays virtually no income taxes despite making millions and living a lavish lifestyle.

A successful high-profile hedge fund manager finds ways to benefit from proprietary information and grow personal investments without technically being guilty of insider trading.

A large commercial developer knows all the strings to pull and buttons to push to get permits to do work without the same kind of scrutiny that an individual builder finds constraining and sometimes prohibitive.

Or, a flimflam artist finds ways to bilk state and federal public assistance programs for tens of thousands of dollars, qualifying for benefits by being a little less than honest, but can’t really be convicted of illegality.

None of them have really violated the law.

They operate on the fringes.

They benefit from loopholes.

So, how do we feel about these things?

Largely, we do not think they should be rewarded for their ingenuity, craftiness and deceit.

Rather, most common, ordinary people feel violated.

And, we should.

When people look for loopholes in the law, their obvious intent is to get by with as much as they possibly can without going to jail.

When elected officials legislate by loophole while it may not technically constitute a violation of the law, it absolutely violates the public trust.

It is not exactly a secret that city and county officials use technicalities and loopholes to get around the state’s Open Meetings Act.

When attorneys instruct their clients on how to deliberate the public’s business in private without technically violating the Sunshine Law, it is obvious there is a total disregard for the public’s right to know.

What is commonly known among elected officials as the 3-on-3, is not illegal — it’s just wrong.

The Open Meetings Act basically requires that any time a quorum of any elected body meets then it constitutes a legal meeting, that must be open to public following an adequate public notice.

So, civic lawyers have interpreted that to mean that any number less than a quorum — three members of a body that requires four to make a quorum for example — can meet and deliberate all they want.

What transpires, then, actually becomes a bit of a game, or at least a tactic, that elected officials use to circumvent the public notice and public meeting requirements.

It amounts to vote-getting.

While officials think they are being clever, they are actually being dishonest and disingenuous.

Citizens have every right to know everything their elected government is doing and why they are doing it.

It is not enough to merely vote on every piece of legislation in public.

Deliberations should lake place before the public as well, whether it is at a public work session or in the regular meeting itself.

When a city council, county commission or board of education comes to a meeting, someone makes a motion, another makes a second, then they vote on some significant piece of business with no discussion, no description, no debate, it is obvious they are practicing loophole legislation.

Why even look for loopholes in the law if everything you are doing is on the up and up?