Democrats stealing government transparency issue from GOP?

That’s what a bill introduced in the North Carolina House this week appears to indicate.  State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) has proposed taking what is basically the language of existing state Open Meetings law and making it part of the state constitution.

Here’s the language Harrison is seeking to add to the state constitution:

We’re big fans of applying lots of sunshine to the activities of government and its associated politicians and hacks.  Openness and transparency in government make it harder to scam taxpayers and otherwise perpetrate unethical, possibly illegal, schemes.  One would think fans of limited government would LOVE Harrison’s idea.  Yet, General Assembly Republicans have gone on record supporting the idea of making it harder for North Carolinians to view documentation that contributes to the crafting and passing of legislation. So, how do you credibly claim to be the party of good, small government while at the same time you’re clamping down on access to records of your taxpayer-financed schemes?

Current Open Meetings law makes a lot of governmental funny business illegal.  But the associated penalties are light.  And complainants have to go through the process of hiring a lawyer to argue their case against the government’s lawyers who are being generously paid by our tax dollars.

You see thumbing-of-the-nose at Open Meetings law at all levels of government.  In Pinehurst, we apparently had council members meeting in private with village staff on how to screw over political rivals.  At Sandhills Community College, the board of trustees argues – with a straight face – that recordings of their regular board meetings are not public record.

There are some acceptable exceptions to Open Meetings requirements.  For instance, discussions regarding real estate purchases.  Once a seller realizes it’s the government seeking to buy his land, the price often sky-rockets.  Once the deal is done, however, all the cards regarding the deal need to be laid on the table for all to see.

Discussion of personnel matters.  Sometimes governing bodies need to talk about employees or potential employees falling under their domain.  Sometimes, candidates seeking to work somewhere new have not yet informed their current employer.  That info leaking out could cause quite a few problems.  Disciplinary matters raise another concern.  Sometimes, during these discussions, unverified information surfaces.  That info leaking out could cause embarrassment for the person being discussed, and – if proven untrue – could open the governing body in question up to slander or libel actions.

Economic development matters. There may be a need to discuss incentives for a company being lured to a new area.  The proposed move could involve closing a facility in its current location. If employees learn of the contemplated move via the news media, there could be trouble that could deep-six the deal altogether.