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Getting Out of the Shade

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March 26, 2012 by wcobserver

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Political culture is a curious thing. It always begs the question, “why can’t every- body be like me.” What seems so clear, so obvious to one person can seem so incredibly wrong-headed to the other guy. Democracy breeds ideological diversity. But still, why do we need a law that insists government business take place out in the open, accessible to all. Why do we need Sunshine laws and Freedom of Information statues? Can’t everybody see the advantage of open government?

Last week was Sunshine Week. It was created by journalists but is also celebrated by civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know and open government.

The idea of free access to information rests on the belief that people who are empowered will play a more active role in their government at all levels. And a democracy with more citizen participation leads to better lives and stronger communities for us all.

For decades the leadership in West Fork has not made open, transparent government a high priority. The town has probably had more Freedom of Information Act com- plaints than Greenland, Farmington, Elkins, Prairie Grove, Lincoln and Winslow. There is a current investigation underway.

Is it just a coincidence that West Fork is also a town without a website or newsletter; with uncompensated council members, delinquent city audits, commission vacancies, a mismanaged utility department, practically no commercial activity, empty houses, declining school enrollment. no welcome sign on the highway and all the other indicators of a town that has not had the good fortune of having had elected leaders that encouraged citizen participation?

The outcome of government business being conducted by arrogant, good ole boys in the back room (or the big table at the café) is not a pretty sight.

In just eight months, West Fork voters will have a chance to blow the roof off and Let the Sunshine In.

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