Transparency is essential to move Alabama forward

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 26, 2005

There is an old Alabama saying about government, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Simply put, the more people know and can see what is going on in their government, the less desire there will be for dishonesty and corruption by elected officials and public servants.

Yet an informed public is not only a way to stop mischief, it is the basis of American democracy itself. Voters must have the facts in order to decide what their government should or should not do. The more government is able to hide information about what it is doing and how it comes to make decisions, the less chance citizens have to make informed decisions when they get to the ballot box.

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Without transparency in government, citizens’ trust in government is also reduced. As soon people think that things aren’t on the up-and-up, that backroom deals and special interests control how public things are done, we lose the ability to work together on common problems. We must have confidence in our public institutions, our courts, our agencies, and our schools, in order to achieve the greatness that is inherent in our state and country.

With so much riding on open government, the Legislature earlier this year closed loopholes in the open-meetings law, the provisions that govern how committees and agencies meet and make decisions. The public deserves to witness when trustees, boards, or commissions meet to create budgets or implements policy changes. The public should have the opportunity to comment and inform elected officials on their feelings and knowledge about issues. By limiting the ability of public bodies to meet and make decisions in private, we increased public access and scrutiny.

Yet open government isn’t just about meetings, it is also about the actions and records of what government does. The Legislature is now examining citizens’ access to public records, making sure the standard is for the people to have the right to inspect documents and papers, not the bureaucracies being able to withhold information. The benchmark should always be: if it was good enough to spend the taxpayers’ money on, it should be good enough for taxpayer inspection.

If you want to see open government in action, I encourage you to come to the state house inMontgomerywhen the Legislature is in session. You will see business conducted in public, from the committee meetings where bills are shaped and discussed, to the floor of the House where bill are debated and votes are taken.

At every stage of a bill’s life, there are citizens watching legislators debate, amend, and ultimately decide on a bill’s passage or failure. Committee rooms are packed and the galleries are often full as citizens watch a heated process of budgeting and lawmaking. This is as it should be, the Legislature is the branch of government closest to the people, where their influence is felt the most.

Moreover, each stage of a bill’s passing, including amendments and votes, are published electronically while the session is going on through ALISON, the Alabama Legislative Information System Online. Even if you can’t come toMontgomery, the information on a bill is updated quickly on this important website, making sure that allAlabamacitizens have access to the information about is up for consideration. For more information on ALISON, go to the Legislature’s website:

Transparency in all levels of government is the best guarantee of an informed public, and an informed public is the best safeguard of order, liberty, and progress. I am proud to say thatAlabamahas worked to increase public information and government transparency, and it will surely pay dividends in our state’s future.