The Domestic War Horse
I write for the paper. I tape all public meetings. Over the last seven years I have learned my rights. They are your rights too.
Sunshine – You have the right …
There has been a lot of discussion lately about public meetings, public records, holding elected officials accountable, and getting people involved in local government. Just in case you are interested, I want to remind you of your rights.
You have the right to be at any and all public meetings, public hearings, special meetings, bid openings, and gatherings of elected officials.
You have the right to know where all your tax money is going.
You have the right to join in the reciting of the pledge with those gathered at the public meeting … or not.
You have the right to pray along with the public officials or stand silently during the moment of silence … or not.
You have the right to participate in public meetings. Make sure you know when during the meeting you are allowed to speak or ask questions and how long the public officials will allow you to speak. If there is an important matter you wish to bring up, contact the governmental entity ahead of time so your name gets placed on the agenda.
You have the right to tape any public meeting and share that tape (or digital) recording with anyone. A public meeting is open to all.
You have the right to ask your elected officials questions about whatever issues you are concerned with. You have the right to expect answers to those questions, if not immediately, within a reasonable amount of time.
You have the right to go to a public office and ask for information. Sunshine Laws state that the information you are asking for might not be given to you immediately, but must be given to you within a “reasonable” amount of time. Remember that the governmental entity has the right to charge you a reasonable cost for copies.
I have heard some say those who do not vote or do not attend public meetings are lazy or don’t care. I disagree. I don’t think people are lazy, I think people are overwhelmed and don’t have time to attend public meetings. I think government has gotten so complicated that after getting their big toe wet, folks feel they don’t have the energy to cross the ocean.
I think there are a lot of reasons why folks don’t show up to public meetings including the time of day of the meeting (mornings are bad for most people), the place of the meeting and the fact that most folks seem to have a difficult time finding out when there are meetings.
It also takes a lot of work and time to follow what the government is doing. Depending where you live, it may take you 10 minutes to an hour to get to the meeting. Then you have to find where the meeting is. Then the meeting may take anywhere from a half hour to two hours or more. Then there is the drive home.
But it is worth the effort. There is power in knowledge and you still have quite a bit of say at the local level. Go to a few meetings. Pick one public entity that directly effects you, say, a village council meeting or a township meeting, and go.
Don’t wait to celebrate your right to Sunshine (March 11–17, 2012, National Sunshine Week). Go to a public meeting as soon as you can. Meetings are free, but there probably won’t be snacks. (Note: The Tomorrow Center Board in Edison DOES serve snacks at their meetings.) – originally published in The Morrow County Sentinel