Bringing Down the Veil of Secrecy
Have you ever spoken to an elected official and left the encounter with the distinct impression that he/she no longer represented the people but had instead become a status-quo politician? Sometimes you can almost see "government as usual" in their eyes as they make the excuses that indicated they are now part of the problem and not the solution. A few months ago, I was asked to define the tipping point when an elected official makes that leap from representing the people to representing the status-quo (becoming "one of them"). This has inspired me to develop a checklist, a set of clearly definable principles, that I believe differentiates between those who have become defenders of the system and those who are still part of the people living under the system.
One of the most important components on this list is that of enabling more government transparency. Defenders of the government as usual system will make up excuses for why people are not allowed to see what is going on in government. Representatives of the people will work hard to institute new ways of allowing the people to see and understand what is happening.
Because of the tremendous size of government, there are now countless boards and commission spending billions of our taxpayer dollars with little oversight from the people. Today, most people are so tied down with the necessities of life, work, family, church, etc., that they have little time to attend the countless number of meetings where their money is being spent. They are forced through no fault of their own to blindly trust these boards and commissions to do the right thing even though hardly anyone is there to watch them work.
I have felt the answer to this problem is televised government and made it a top issue as Guthrie City Councilman. The Council agreed to televise meetings on Guthrie's public service television channel and, thanks to the work of Lance Crenshaw, the Guthrie telecast is probably one of the best in the state. The Council also approved a policy to allow other government entities to provide recordings of their meetings to the Guthrie public service channel as well.
As State Representative, one of my biggest policy initiatives has been to work on televising state government proceedings. I am optimistic that this effort will meet with success.
In addition to televising state government, I believe it is time to look at requirements for those public entities who have public service television channels, such as school boards and city government. I believe these entities should, at the very least, televise video recording of their meetings. With the minimal cost of a video/digital recorder, there is no longer any valid reason for them to keep the public in the dark.
Several years ago, by a one vote margin, both the Logan County Board of Commissioners and the Logan County Medical Center Public Trust (both of which vote on spending millions of taxpayers dollars) voted not to produce and play videos of their meetings on the Guthrie public service channel. I hope both boards will revisit this unfortunate decision, as I feel those who truly represent the people should never fear public disclosure.
In the meantime, two excellent examples of recorded local government meetings are available online at cityofguthrie.com and okahomacounty.org.