Transparency is best public policy
Of all the policies government agencies must abide, there is none greater than transparency.
This is "Sunshine Week," seven days which celebrate the great American – and Iowan – principle that government belongs to the people, and thus, its actions, records, deliberations, considerations and decisions are to be taken and recorded in view of the public eye.
For decades, we have taken for granted the concept of open government. We have expected our elected public officials to discuss matters in front of the people they serve. We have expected the public to have an opportunity to participate in the data collection and idea sharing stages. We have expected disclosure of facts that have influenced decision-making. Alas, significant erosion has occurred with regard to these expectations.
With the availability of fast, easy and multi-level discussions via the internet, there are plenty of instances of elected officials having uncalled "meetings" to discuss issues. In some places, a "walking quorum" has been and is used to carry on discussions about public policy – simply put, one elected person talks to another about something without violating an open meeting policy, then one of those two talks to another elected person alone, and as the effort continues, soon, a majority of the elected representatives have carried out discussions without ever calling a meeting or without ever having a quorum present at any one time. These efforts circumvent public participation, are unethical and often are fairly apparent.
Over the last couple of decades, it's been Iowa newspapers that have risen to the challenge to fight for citizens' rights in regard to retaining open government. It was Iowa newspapers which pushed hard and, in 2012, got passage of legislation that created the Iowa Public Information Board and office. The IPIB is a place where citizens can register concerns, at no cost, and have attorneys review the situation, contact the accused party, conduct investigations, hold hearings and reach resolutions. Previously, terrible policy required a complainant to file suit in district court, take on legal fees, show up for court dates, etc., and often the issue of contention was long-since voted upon and enacted prior to any hearing.
Iowa's newspapers continue to fight each year for your right to know.
Throughout the year, the Dickinson County News and other newspapers advocate for good, transparent government practices that fall in line with Chapters 21 and 22 of the Iowa Code - Iowa's open meetings and open records laws. We applaud those elected officials and appointed servants who comply with the code and make it a priority. And for those who would try to slide by, we encourage you to consider that all of what you do is at the behest of the people you serve. The citizens pay for the records, they pay for the structure – it's their government.
During Sunshine Week, the Dickinson County News and other Iowa newspapers encourage you to participate in local government by attending meetings, paying attention to published public notices and making transparency an expectation.