It’s your government. Don’t let them shut the door. | Editorial

Hernando commissioners whine itís hard to conduct public business in the sunshine. Tough.
Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion Alice Herden  |  Special to the Times
Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion Alice Herden | Special to the Times
Published August 23

Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion is in the wrong line of work. Last week, Champion groused at a commission meeting about a state law that requires public business to be conducted - of all places - in the sunshine. If he wants to conduct business in private, he should stick to private business.

As the Tampa Bay Times’ Barbara Behrendt reported, Champion suggested seeking a change in the state’s Government in the Sunshine Law to allow commissioners to meet privately to discuss public business. While the board took no action, two of Champion’s fellow commissioners actually supported the idea.

Meeting behind closed doors would be a great way for politicians to throw contracts and jobs to campaign contributors and family, to hide corruption and incompetence or squelch dissent. But Florida’s Sunshine Law, enacted in 1967, and its companion - the Public Records Law, which traces to 1909 - exist to ensure public access to government meetings and records. Elected officials hold a public trust and must be accountable.

It is predictable that Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, would indulge supporters of this bad idea. He voted for a 2017 bill that would have let two local government officials meet about public business in secret. The bill won a majority of votes in the House, but it failed thanks to a constitutional provision that requires two-thirds approval. The Senate never took it up.

If Champion and his colleagues are uncomfortable conducting public business in public, there’s a much easier remedy than changing state law. Leave public office.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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