If we want good government, we need open government.
Transparency in government and the right to know are at the very heart of a robust democracy.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania think otherwise.
They want less transparency. They want to make it more difficult for the residents of Pennsylvania to see what government is doing.
It is with that attitude that they are opposing House Bill 2408 introduced by state Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County.
His bill would require government agencies to make meeting agendas — including a list of issues subject to official action and/or deliberation — available in public prior to public meetings or hearings. Further, agencies would have to post agendas at the meeting location and on their public websites.
His legislation amending the Sunshine Act is another welcome step toward sound and participatory government. His goal is to provide residents the tools they need to fully participate in their government as well as understand what their officials are doing.
“Imagine how difficult it would be for citizens and news reporters to understand issues that elected officials discuss and/or take action on during a public meeting without an agenda,’’ Jed Kensinger of Lancaster Newspapers testified during a hearing Monday before the House State Government Committee in Harrisburg. "Or an agenda with too little public notice that is available for the first time when you arrive at the meeting? Or perhaps one that is so cryptic it contains little more than ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ ‘Old Business,’ ‘New Business’ and ‘Public Comments.’ ’’
This isn’t merely an academic concern. Just look at East Earl Township where most residents had no idea a $1.2 million bridge project was underway with the goal of accommodating about 15 vehicles a day.
In another instance, an East Earl meeting agenda item appeared as “East Earl LLC,” and provided no other details. By the time residents learned of the scope of the development behind that agenda item, it was too late to scrutinize the plans.
Pressure from a citizens group and Lancaster Newspapers reporting has at long last prompted East Earl to provide the public with agendas and related documents. Now the public and the news media can follow what the township is doing.
Kensinger was correct when he testified that the “blatant disregard for open and honest government’’ in some agencies across the commonwealth shows over and over why we need a stronger — not a weaker — open meetings law.
When an agency or local government can spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars without the knowledge of citizens, something is wrong.
“It happens partly because agencies lack detailed meeting agendas and supporting records that hold both citizens and public officials accountable,’’ Kensinger testified.
Government does the people’s business; it’s our business to know what government is doing.
Pass House Bill 2408.