-Article as posted by the Waller Times – Written by Carrie Prazak-Gourley
Never Forget Out Government is Based on Consent of the Governed
Recently, citizens of Waller County have been through a virtual wringer and all due to a lack of county government transparency by the previous commissioner’s court. After a four-year, hard fought battle, the City of Hempstead and Citizens Against the Landfill Hempstead (CALH) finally won a victory for transparency when a jury of Waller County citizens, in an 11-1 verdict, found commissioners on the prior court in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act. The win was well worth the fight.
Key to the win is the fact that the citizens protesting the conduct of the prior court knew their rights and fought for them tooth and nail, by hiring an expert legal team, who worked tirelessly for and won the citizen’s right to open government.
Sadly, however, such a battle should never be necessary. After all, isn’t that why Americans fought a revolution and set up a democratic republic 238 years ago?
In a democracy, the principle of accountability holds that government officials–whether elected or appointed by those who have been elected–are responsible to the citizens for their decisions and actions. Transparency requires that decisions and actions of those in government are open to public scrutiny and that all citizens have a right to access such information. Both concepts are central to the idea of democratic governance. Without accountability and transparency, democracy is impossible and the notion of the will of the people has no meaning.
Elections are the primary means for citizens to hold their country’s officials accountable for their actions, and in Waller County, the people did just that-by removing from office the officials they deemed had violated their right to know.
But for elections, and the people’s will to be meaningful, basic rights must be protected and affirmed, such as those found in the Bill of Rights. However, if citizens are to conduct their own affairs, they must be informed on how to determine their affairs and how best to represent and execute them.
A free press is also an essential guarantee of the public’s access to information and it is essential that the people have a right to gain access to information, regardless of one’s political views.
Throughout our nation’s history, the battle for transparency has not always been easy. In fact, it was not until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Freedom of Information Act, which states, “…a democracy works best when the people have all government information that the security of the nation permits. No one whould be able to pull the curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.”
Without these three–elections, a free press, and a knowledgeable citizenry–government is likely to succumb to corruption. This has occurred throughout history when no controls have been placed on government powers and leaders have sought instead to pursue their own interests in order to retain power.
Luckily, the citizens of Waller County had the knowledge to know their rights and to fight government secrecy. Kudos to them.
James Madison once said, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
Never forget a basic principle of our democratic republic stated in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.”
“Consent of the Governed” is key. The United States of America was the first modern state formed around consent of the governed. The term implies that the people are sovereign and consent through elected representatives to the establishment of their own government.
But, that government is obligated to be transparent, not conducting government business in secret. A current example of such secrecy was carried out by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who is slated to be the Democratic nominee for the presidency. Clinton sent all of her emails, including those involving government business, through her own private server, located in her home in New York. In addition, she and her staff chose, without oversight, which emails to hand over to the government, and which to destroy, which is an obvious violation of the people’s right to know.
Is this the kind of leader you want as the next President of the United States?
Americans must remember that we are the government, and as such, we must be knowledgeable of the law, for how otherwise do we know when our rights have been violated?
In Waller County, our new Commissioners Court has – so far – brought in the sunshine, letting the light of transparency shine on all court proceedings. It has been a welcome breath of fresh air, and you can thank the citizens of Waller County who participated actively in county politics for bringing about this change.
Let’s continue the battle for transparency–on the local, state, and national level–to ensure that our nation’s leaders only continue to do the work of government with our consent–the consent of We the People.