Our opinion: Your right to know — celebrate!

Published 12:01 pm Saturday, March 9, 2019

Sunshine Week is observed this year from March 10-16 and focuses on the public’s right to know. It’s a celebration of something that is highly valued in our state.
A landmark move by Georgia’s new Attorney General Chris Carr made all of us in the realm of journalism very proud indeed. Charges were filed against the press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed just a few weeks ago. Jenna Garland, 34, the press secretary during Reed’s second term, has been cited for allegedly violating the Georgia Open Records Act. This is the first criminal complaint filed in connection with the law, according to the state attorney general’s office.
This is only one part of what Georgia’s Open Records Acts provides for. We are thankful these charges were filed, and if Garland is found guilty, we hope it will serve as an example of the consequences of flouting this very important law. Important not just for journalists, but most of all for you, the public.
Think about this for a moment. If this newspaper was not insistently and consistently pressuring public officials to respect the law and do what is right, where would this community be?
There would be no information available on what city and/or county officials are doing with taxpayers’ dollars. They could operate in a void and do whatever they wish. They could spend the public’s money on themselves, as illustrated in the case of former city public works director Bernard Kendrick’s fake grant-writing scheme.
Without the state’s “Sunshine” laws, public safety would be unaccountable as well. That includes sheriff’s and police departments, fire and rescue, as well as state agencies such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia State Patrol, and the health department. Operating under the radar of public scrutiny is not only unhealthy for a thriving democracy but is often an invitation to graft and corruption. Just take a look around the world to see what happens when a free press is not allowed to be free. Those unfortunate people not only are uninformed, they are powerless to do much about their situation.
While the “mainstream media” remains under constant attack, here and abroad, it is refreshing to know that in Georgia, the Sunshine laws allow community newspapers to present the facts. While we sometimes encounter those who choose to throw up barriers to the release of public information, for the most part we are fortunate to have local officials who do not attempt to skirt the law.
The Sunshine Laws affect all of us, in ways large and small. Feel like dining out this evening? Without Sunshine, you wouldn’t know which restaurants had poor scores on their last inspections. Looking to purchase a home here? Without letting the sunshine in, you would not know when and where crime occurs and which neighborhoods seem safer than others. Want to know how much the new high school will cost? Without public meetings laws, none of that information would be available. Want to know more about candidates running for public office? It’s all there for you to learn in the newspaper you are reading right this minute. Wonder who just purchased those 20,000-plus acres in the eastern portion of the county? If not for Georgia’s Sunshine Laws, the public would never be privy to the answers to these and other questions.
Life without our state’s Sunshine Laws would lean more toward the Dark Ages, and would certainly not satisfy the citizenry. That’s why we observe and celebrate Georgia’s Open Meetings and Records Laws this week, and every week of the year. We invite you to celebrate with us. Where rumor and innuendo could reign, we’re proud to be the local voice in the community, shining the light into all the corners. We do it for you.