James Madison, chief draftsman of the US Constitution, wrote, “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Beth Mason’s efforts on our behalf to obtain public information are commendable and are deserving of the public’s full support. Though records are required by law to be readily available to the public for inspection, examination and copying, our city government seems bent on erecting barriers to keep information out of our hands. When the customary procedures for requesting information fail, lawsuits – or the threat of lawsuits – are the only way to get the attention of those in city hall.
Beth Mason’s requests are not merely an exercise in document production, nor inspired by a desire to wreak havoc upon the city clerk’s office. Mason is specifically asking for documents that would illuminate better how our tax monies are being spent and how key city planning projects come into being.
With the drastic increases in spending that we’ve witnessed in recent years, and redevelopment plans that will have long-lasting repercussions on the nature of our city, we should be grateful that one person is leading the charge to expose the inner workings of our city government. That the city does not fully respond to reasonable requests for information is troubling; that it should further thwart efforts to gain information by spending our tax money in litigation fighting such requests is outrageous.
The city’s recalcitrance suggests that there is indeed something to hide and that we should therefore be doubly supportive of Mason’s efforts.
Eric S. Kurta, President,
People for Open Government