GLASGOW — “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them,” states the preamble to the Ralph M. Brown Act. “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
The Ralph M. Brown Act, named for a former California assemblyman and appeals court judge, is led by the quotation above. There are few statements in history that better describe the relationship between citizens and those who have been elected or hired to serve them.
The Act could be deemed best as the first modern open meetings law. It was passed in 1953 in California and set into law things such as what type of advanced notice must be provided for open meetings, where meetings must be convened, who is allowed to attend and other items of importance to the function of open government.
Kentucky passed an effective sunshine law, as the types of laws are often termed, in the 1970s and revised the law in the 1990s. The commonwealths’ laws are lauded as some of the best in the nation. Laws, though, are only as good as those charged to uphold them and there in lies the rub.
If the elected officials abdicate responsibility by not participating openly or effectively in the process, then they are making the laws ineffective.
There are those who serve the public, are governed by laws of openness and they either never bother to familiarize themselves with the laws, or simply ignore the laws because they believe open meetings and open records laws are not important. I will give those individuals the benefit of the doubt and believe their ignorance is accidental.
With each new year following an election cycle, there are new members of boards of education, new city council members, newly elected officials in several areas. There will be training for them regarding open meetings and open records and we implore them to attend and learn their duty to open government and public discourse of their constituents’ business.
We guarantee there will be a quiz in the future.
James Brown is editor of the Glasgow Daily Times. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.