Daniel Suddeath

Daniel Suddeath

Imagine if you went into work today, gathered a group of your coworkers together, and when the boss came up and asked what you were doing, you told him to mind his own business?

You'd probably be looking for another job.

This is essentially what our elected and appointed officials tell taxpayers and voters when they hide behind loose interpretations of open meeting laws and attempt to thwart the public's knowledge of how they're spending our money.

And it is our money, let's be clear about it. While elected officials are representatives of the community, it's the taxpayers who fund our system and who pay for their salaries or the stipends they receive when they sit on boards or are elected to councils, commissions and the like.

Having been blessed to have worked in three states as a professional journalist, I can assure you, the problem isn't unique to southcentral Kentucky. It's not even germane to just local governments. We see plenty of evidence at the state and federal levels of government officials who work hard to make sure we know very little about their actions and how our money is spent.

That said, we have an issue with transparency here and it needs to be addressed.

Whether it's utility board members' discussing the future of a superintendent outside of a public meeting, the Glasgow mayoral administration's declining to release a proposed budget though it's a public document or appointed members' of local boards requesting our reporters not mention certain aspects from discussions during open meetings, we've had several questionable instances if not downright violations of the law locally in recent months.

Public officials should embrace open government. This is how public trust is built. In communities our size, the truth is going to get out eventually anyway. A smart person would get ahead of the gossip and be as transparent as possible — assuming they have nothing to hide. If not, we find out the truth in drips and drops and that lends itself to all kinds of rhetoric and hearsay.

Some officials want to conduct the public's business in private because they believe we'll overreact to their discussions. They argue that they can't have an honest conversation about what are admittedly tough issues because they will be punished by some for their words.

This is where the old adage of "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" comes into play.

Yes, some people do respond harshly to comments from public officials. We as taxpayers and residents of this community should be mindful of the consequences of our words. Take a look at our Glasgow Electric Plant Board. As much bullying as board members on either side of that never-ending saga have absorbed, who in their right mind would want to serve on that body?

We need to be more respectful of those who serve on such boards for scraps of money. Their jobs are important and their time is valuable.

But appointed and elected officials need a degree of toughness and self-belief. If you believe in what you're proposing, then you shouldn't worry about how others will perceive your ideas. Sell your opinions to the public, because they'll eventually have to live with your decision.

We've gotten off track in this country in that we've turned leadership into a popularity contest. Good leaders aren't necessarily popular, or at least they're not always well-received initially.

Good leaders need to see the end game and must be able to make decisions that will help reach the best goals even if it requires sacrifice or someone disagreeing with them. Basically, don't hide behind closed doors to discuss our future. Be brave and confident enough to present those ideas to the masses.

There's open meetings and open records training available in Kentucky for public officials. Every board should schedule this training once a year and taxpayers should welcome the idea because it protects us and our investments.

And as a plug for an industry that's devalued by too many people these days, you should support your community news organizations when they fight for transparency. These are the journalists who attend board meetings that would probably bore you to tears in some cases because they understand the bigger picture — that the members of those boards, councils and commissions are spending your money and that they should be accountable for every cent.

Believing that elected and appointed officials would always follow the rules and keep your best interests at heart if it weren't for those watchdogs is about as logical as sleeping with your door unlocked every night. Most people would never harm you, but there's always someone who would sneak through that open door if they knew they could get inside.

The same is true with government and the agencies associated with the public sector. There are a lot of good elected and appointed officials in this community and throughout the nation, but there are always some bad apples who will bend the rules for their own gain or simply because they don't want you to know about their actions.

It's trite, but it's a tried and true statement. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Suddeath is the editor of the Glasgow Daily Times. His column appears in the Thursday edition and at various times throughout the week. Reach him at 270-678-5171, or by email at dsuddeath@glasgowdailytimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @DsuddeathGDT.