The attack on government transparency

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Last week in this very space, we were critical of Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) and those among his colleagues whose actions seek to keep Virginians in the dark (“Tommy Norment vs. The People,” Feb. 10, 2016). Specifically, we mentioned Senate Bill 560, which was written and introduced by Norment with the intent of removing foreclosure notices from newspapers.

On Monday, Norment’s bill was voted on by the full Senate and was defeated by a vote of 21-17 (two Republican senators did not vote). Of the two state senators who represent Western Tidewater in the Virginia General Assembly, Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) voted against SB 560. Senator John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) supported it.

While the bill’s defeat is good news for those who believe public notices should remain just that, the bad news is that each and every year several bills are submitted that would allow government to restrict the way vital information — much of which documents the activities of the government — is disseminated to the public. Each year these bills pick up a little more steam, seemingly in direct proportion to the extent that citizens are willing to cede a little more transparency in exchange for not having to put in any effort to resist a government that is every day pulling the wool a little bit further over their eyes.

Government control over the content and manner in which public information is communicated is not an issue the people should take lightly. Whether it be a state legislature attempting to kill public notices in newspapers, a local school board deciding if you can utter the name of a government employee during citizens’ time or a local city council brazenly violating the Freedom of Information Act by holding a meeting in closed session during which it discussed pay raises and bonuses for an entire city department, government transparency — and your right to know — is under constant attack. And unless those who desire a government of, by and for the people publicly and loudly demand accountability and transparency from those whom they have elected to serve, those who would seek to operate in the shadows will win.

And the rest of us will lose.