Government, hiding

April 18, 2013 

When government goes behind closed doors in a meeting labeled an “executive session” or when officials whisper in a hallway, beware. If it looks like they are up to something, they probably are.

Now state Senate Bill 287 would, if not close a door on the public, at least drop a curtain that would make it more difficult for those wanting to learn of zoning changes, annexations, building projects and other decisions of local governments. These matters are important. They can affect property values, change neighborhoods or cost taxpayers money, among other things.

The bill would allow some governments to escape the current requirement that they notify the public about what they’re doing through the tried-and-true process of legal advertising in newspapers.

Instead, they could put the information on government websites, which legislators well know are not closely followed. Newspapers put the information out there for all to see, and many citizens customarily check them. Government websites can be extraordinarily difficult to navigate – and some entities that want to hide what they’re doing might take advantage of that.

Yes, newspapers make some money from the ads, but they also perform a public service and make the information accessible to a much wider audience. And that makes it less likely that local governments are, yes, going to be up to something.

This is bad legislation from Republican lawmakers who have been criticized by many North Carolina newspapers for their actions in this session of the General Assembly they now control. Perhaps this is payback – but this kind of revenge is not in the public interest.

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