Openness is such a powerful protector of the public good that it is difficult, in that context, to understand why public administrators, generally deeply ion the side of public good, resist it. The human element however, explains that reluctance, for in deliberation upon public policy there is often approached those boundaries that should not be contemplated but are because of a value free approach saying all should be on the table.
Or the reverse, when what should be on the table is not due to public convention which has been shaped by special interest arguments, yet enters into the deliberations anyway.
In both cases, it is common for the official to not want whomever to know that what he or she has discussed can upset a certain segment of their supporters.
But, the public’s right to know has to trump this, and we can sort out the special interest control of policy later.
Why citizen 'voyeurs' must be protected
By Peter Scheer - Special To The Bee
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, January 28, 2007
One of California's more remarkable political inventions is the requirement that lawmakers do their lawmaking in the open for all to see. Call it the people's entitlement to democratic voyeurism: Members of city councils, county supervisors and school boards, among other local legislative bodies, must not only vote in public, they must confine virtually all debate, horse-trading and other deliberations to a public proceeding where voters get to watch.
The voyeurism entitlement is guaranteed by the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law. Although taken for granted by voters, this entitlement is a considerable -- no, a radical -- departure from traditional notions of American governance. After all, the Constitutional Convention, the mother of all American legislative proceedings held in Philadelphia in 1787, was conducted in secret. The public learned only as much about the founding fathers' deliberations as the founding fathers wanted the public to know.
Consider also the U.S. Congress, where the public aspects of contemporary legislating consist, for the most part, of speeches to empty chambers, scripted "debates" to create phony legislative history and votes that reflect deals previously struck behind closed doors. Despite its reputation for high-minded debate on great issues of the day, the modern Congress is more about secret earmarks and mutual back-scratching than it is about deliberations on matters of public interest.
California's insistence on open decision-making is so contrary to politicians' normal instincts that many local officials can't quite believe the requirement applies to them. Last month the California First Amendment Coalition sued the chair of San Bernardino County's board of supervisors, Bill Postmus, to force him to release copies of e-mails between him and other supervisors, as well as his calendar of official meetings and appointments.