Secrecy in Mississippi
Secrecy remains a pervasive problem in parts of Mississippi government. The Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information has produced a series about the issue, with help from The Associated Press and the Mississippi Press Association.
The series includes two news articles by Michael Newsom of The Sun Herald; a news analysis by Jeanni Atkins, executive director for the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information; and an editorial by Charlie Mitchell, assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi and president of the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information.
Each piece of the series moved in advance for publication Monday, Feb. 21 and thereafter. Non-AP members are encouraged to run the stories at will beginning the week of Feb. 21 or thereafter.
The series will be repeated on the wire Sunday, Feb. 21; and Monday, Feb. 21 for AP members
The series also is being made available through MPA and, at some point, will be posted to the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information website.
Click on the links below to download a text file for each story.
Click here to download a copy of the Secrecy series logo.
UNDATED – Late last year, Bill Sharp was watching an Internet video of a Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors meeting when something odd happened. At their Sept. 20 meeting in Meridian, supervisors went into a "closed session" to talk about a personnel matter, but the camera feeding video to the county's website stayed on. Some personnel matters can be used as a basis for closed sessions, but while in the closed session, the board discussed raising garbage collection fees. They polled each other for support for a resolution asking the Legislature for the authority to implement the hike. Sharp _ angered over the topic coming up in closed session as it had been the subject of contention there _ took the information to the local media. By Michael Newsom, The Sun Herald.
UNDATED _ Several lawmakers are pushing big changes to Mississippi's open meetings law again this year _ legislation a House committee chairman killed with a last-minute maneuver in 2010. Higher fines, as well as proposals to make officials pay, instead of the taxpayers, when there's a violation, died last year. Opponents said they worried about the financial burdens those changes might place on some low-paid or volunteer officials. By Michael Newsom, The Sun Herald.
OXFORD _ Fast-moving world events remind us again how secrecy harms societies and how critical the free flow of information is to protecting citizens' rights. As Egypt descended into anarchy, revolutions were being spawned in other countries. Efforts to impose secrecy on unfolding events by shutting down the Internet and attempting to prevent the media from reporting the story have failed and instead fueled the people's revolution. By closing off access to information, governments obscure the truth and avoid accountability to the public. But hiding behind a wall of secrecy to maintain power and preventing people from having a voice in matters affecting their lives can cook up a volatile toxic brew of frustration escalating into violence. We don't have to pay the high price of risking lives and economic hardship as people in the Middle East who are fighting to force government accountability and gain a voice in decisions and policies. But we must remain vigilant to challenge lack of transparency and work to improve access to information. By Jeanni Atkins, Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information.
UNDATED _ Word sometimes does not filter down to some groups that the best government is open government and that the best communities have an informed citizenry. Such notions are too often considered high-minded or inconvenient. "We'll tell people what we want them to know, when we want them to know it," is the attitude. It's wrong. State law says so, time and again. By Charlie Mitchell, Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information
For additional information, contact:
Layne Bruce, executive director
Mississippi Press Association
601-981-3060, ext. 229