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Other voices: ‘Open’ equals ‘accountable’

If information is power, it stands to reason that people armed with information have considerable power.
But lobbyists for government agencies apparently donít want ordinary citizens to wield that kind of power. They argued against a Republican-sponsored bill in the North Carolina House that would make access to public information a constitutional right.
The Sunshine Amendment is one of the high points so far of this Republican-dominated Legislature. If the voters approve the amendment in November 2012, House Bill 87 and its counterpart, Senate Bill 67 would strengthen North Carolinaís open-government laws. In addition, the General Assembly couldnít close off access to public records without a two-thirds majority of both chambers. Government lobbyists insist that the billís supporters are going too far. …
There is always the possibility that public information can be misused. That doesnít mean we should cut off access. If doing so truly is in the publicís best interest, lawmakers will be able to muster the necessary votes.
Too often, however, secrecy is used by government officials to avoid embarrassment or unwanted scrutiny. Many officials view the openness requirement as an inconvenience that gets in the way of doing business.
The business they are doing is the publicís business.
In the past quarter-century, this newspaper has on occasion taken officials to court to force them to hand over what was clearly public information. An Associated Press investigation a few years ago revealed an alarming number of public employees who were either ignorant of or openly defied the Public Records Law.
During that same period, lobbyists for public agencies and institutions have asked for and received several exemptions or revisions to open-government laws. They also have fought efforts to strengthen those statutes. But secrecy only breeds greater distrust, and the people are now demanding more accountability from the people who spend their tax dollars. …
ó StarNews of Wilmington

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