As citizens we have a right to know what our local government municipalities are up to. That is as true in 2021 as it has ever been. The reason is simple: government operates, at all levels, on our tax dollars. Government does not exist without those funds (taken from us whether we like it or not).
Yet it seems at times when a citizen does take an interest and wants to hold government officials accountable, they are often criticized or called negative names. In some cases, you get banned from government property although there is a clear case for a lawsuit in that scenario.
Before we go on, let me be clear about something. No one has a right to physically attack anyone, government official or not, and even verbally threatening someone should not be tolerated.
However, a citizen who wants one or 1,000 documents related to government has the complete right to request and receive them. Government officials should be allowed a reasonable amount of time to fulfill the requests but not doing so is against the state’s Sunshine laws.
In various counties in this state, there are people who consider themselves government watchdogs. They attend meetings and often request documents that they are legally allowed access to.
I’ve often told people if a newspaper can receive certain documents, then so can any citizen. Newspapers are not unique in being able to obtain police reports or what is happening at city hall. Any citizen can do that.
Now that doesn’t mean that government officials are always eager to cooperate. Their unwillingness to do so, however, could mean a number of things. It could mean they aren’t aware they are required under law to make documents available or, at times, it may mean something is being covered up. Neither reason is valid, however.
Most citizens pay no attention whatsoever to what their government officials are doing. By taking this approach it only gives government officials, who are supposed to be our voice, a free pass to do whatever they want.
Getting upset after taxes are raised or getting mad after a new tax is created means you are late to the party. In reality, you are too late.
Yet those citizens who do care enough to question something before it happens tend to be labeled as a trouble-makers or crazy or just someone trying to cause problems. The old adage of “you can’t fight city hall” seems to move to the forefront.
In reality anyone who cares enough to what is being done by government officials should be applauded. Unfortunately, what often happens in local municipalities is that a long-time government official is popular or has a lot of friends.
That should not give someone a free pass to do whatever they desire with our tax money, however. And it shouldn’t have to be a case of the problem affecting you directly before you become concerned.
Some citizens have taken to filming government meetings and officials when they are performing their official duties. It is 100% legal to do so. No public official or anyone in public for that matter has any expectation of privacy.
It’s understandable that not every citizen can attend a city council meeting or county commission gathering. Work and family commitments often make that impossible.
However, when other citizens do take the time to try and keep others informed and try to shine a light to the dark cave that is so often government operations then they should be thanked and not demonized. Taking an interest in what government officials do with our hard-earned money is in no way crazy. In reality, it is crazy for someone not to do so.
Chris Bridges is a former sports editor for The Walton Tribune and The Covington News. He welcomes feedback about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.