Mayor Yarber, Please Lead on Transparency | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mayor Yarber, Please Lead on Transparency

We are pleased to report that we are seeing some, at least marginal, improvements in the way the City of Jackson is handling access to information. We applaud the new portal the mayor introduced this week, which promises to display a lot of city information so any citizen can download it, at no cost and with no hassle or disapproving responses from public servants on the other end of the information.

This is certainly a baby step in the right direction. Of course, the next big step is to ensure that every piece of information possible is put on that website. And perhaps mostly importantly, we want to see evidence from every person in a leadership role with the city—from the mayor to the city attorneys to the department heads—that they understand that the public and the media have the immediate right to almost every document, email and other correspondence that passes through the City, and that we have the right to attend most every meeting.

They must also refrain from going into executive session just because they might be sued later. That's not reason enough.

What is needed every day on the city and state levels, as well as with public organizations such as the Levee Board, airport commission and others, is a welcoming attitude that demonstrates an understanding that the public is supposed to be part of the process as it's unfolding, not brought in to see a perfect presentation at the end. Yes, that means we may say or write something unflattering or challenging, but we get to as taxpayers.

On the state level, it almost seems hopeless with a number of the top leaders. The spokespeople for men like Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves—in those cases, both ironically former Clarion-Ledger reporters—only provide real access to media they believe will be friendly to their bosses and ask softball questions.

And on controversial issues, like HB 1523, they don't even bother to actually email statements anymore. Bryant, or probably his spokesman Clay Chandler, announced he had signed the anti-LGBT bill in a statement on a Twitter—that actually had to be retyped into a story.

In 2016.

Obviously, many public servants use such trickery to keep critical or questioning media at arm's length. They don't want to answer hard questions, and they want to control the narrative, only speaking through statement, demanding advance questions (which we don't provide) or simply freezing out media who don't adhere to a compliant form of "access journalism" that under-serves the public and limits information.

The public needs to demand better of elected officials and their staffers. And if they continue to try to freeze out the public, we should unite and turn them out of office. They don't deserve to be paid by the taxpayers if they try to freeze us out. That is not their right.

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