Posted tagged ‘e-mails’

Gadfly and the Sunshine gang

November 16, 2007

It was a refreshing discussion at Evangel University Nov. 15 when the Gadfly joined members of the Springfield media and James Klahr, from the AG’s office, to discuss the practical applications of the Sunshine Law. David Burton with the University of Missouri Extension Office and the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists deserve praise for providing the opportunity to learn about the law, discuss its importance and to air frustrations over its flaws.

Klahr gave an overview of the state’s open records law that is often misunderstood, under utilized and sometimes plainly and purposefully ignored. Tony Messenger, editorial page editor for the Springfield News-Leader, expounded on his e-mail odyssey with the governor’s office that will surely set straight any misconceptions that e-mail communications among government officials are off limits to the public. And Ron Davis, senior producer with KSPR,  shared his many, many years of experience in digging for and reporting on news in southwest Missouri. He drove home the point that journalists must turn the page to find the story.

The three local panelists are glaring examples of what’s needed to hold government accountable and what is all too often missing. While Christian County resident (Gadfly) Ernie O’Gaffney takes hit after hit by the status quo in this county, he is evidence that one person can make a difference. The public is better served when people like him take a stand.
But his experience is also evidence that the Sunshine Law is not easily enforced and when the public, which includes the media, run up against cranky public officials, often the only recourse is to sue. His litigation languishes still—since March—with the AG’s office. That makes it easy for officials to break the law and watch while nothing ever happens.

But what was more important about last night’s seminar is that the room was full of student journalists who may have heard for the first time how important it is to hold government accountable. Davis made it clear that journalists cannot expected to be liked by the folks they cover and that it isn’t in anyone’s interest to sidle up and drink at the trough of government gruel—PR.

Without oversight, which is the main job of the press, even the best of intentions can go haywire.
Secondly, there were a number of local residents there who are struggling to hold their officials accountable and needed the pep talk to assure them they’re on the right side of tracks.

Three important points came from the discussion:
• The Sunshine Law is for everyone, not just the media
• The Sunshine Law needs teeth to discourage noncompliance
• And, as Davis put it, public officials are people like you and me. Most want to do a good job and are willing to comply with that and all the other laws; they should be respected for their public service. Scrutiny simply helps them attain that nobility.

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