In the public interest: Bill would make good rules for doing official business

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Fewer measures are more effective in keeping government agencies honest than open records and open meeting laws. Since the state Legislature passed the Sunshine Act requiring government bodies to conduct business publicly, open meetings have been an effective way to keep politicians honest.

But all laws can be improved. Local agencies do not have to reveal their meeting plans to the public ahead of time, which can limit knowledge of, and thus public participation in, meetings on important issues.

A bill put forward by state Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, would largely limit this kind of political slipperiness by requiring state and local agencies to make agendas publicly available 24 hours before meetings. They would also be prohibited from moving forward on actions not included in the public notice, barring emergencies.

As Mr. Christiana wrote in a sponsorship memorandum, “secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.”

The legislation, House Bill 2408, is currently before the House Committee on State Government, chaired by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry. Though having an obstructionist at the helm bodes ill for any reform, this straight-forward measure deserves quick passage.

Keeping local government transparent and honest ought to be a bipartisan issue. Such measures don’t hurt politicians’ ability to do their jobs — they help Pennsylvanians do theirs of being involved and informed citizens.

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