First-hand glimpse of lawmaking disappoints
The above cartoon by Kevin Sithers appeared in the Charlotte Observer Wednesday and perhaps dozens of other newspapers across the state. It is based on an incident Jeff Schumacher and I witnessed Tuesday when we were in Raleigh.
The cartoon depicts Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican who is the co-chairman of the State and Local Government Committee, and references a conversation with Hal Tanner III, president of the N.C. Press Association and publisher of the Goldsboro News-Argus.
At issue was a bill before the committee regarding the current law that requires government entities to provide public notice in a newspaper of general circulation about certain actions they intend to take.
The actions required to be published are significant. They include giving public notice about fire district annual meetings — the one time a year where those who live in a rural fire district and pay up to 10 cents for every $100 of value to support their district — get to vote on representatives and hear how their money is spent.
Public notices are required for everything from budget issues to seeking bids on construction projects to deciding whether a government can issue bonds to pay for capital projects.
We were in Raleigh to oppose a bill that would take away the requirement to publish the legal ads in the newspaper and allow government entities to merely post the information on their websites.
While the bill started out only applying to Guilford County, the cities of Greensboro, High Point and the town of Morrisville, State Sen. Jim Davis, who is the lone senator representing Haywood County, tacked on all the counties within his district, so the bill had significance to all in our county.
As we listened to the comments made by the committee members — there were 11 of them — we tallied up six votes in favor of killing the measure.
That squared with an earlier committee meeting where the measure was not voted upon, an action the press association speculates occurred because there wasn’t enough support. When Chairman Tucker called for the committee vote Tuesday, it sounded like the outcome was in our favor. We thought surely our trip to Raleigh had been a success. Much to our amazement, the chairman declared that it was his opinion that the motion passed.
When a committee member asked for a vote showing how each vote was cast, Tucker refused and adjourned the meeting.
It was after the meeting, when Tanner approached the committee chairman that things turned heated. Their conversation sparked the idea for the cartoon depicted above.
We could hardly believe what we had witnessed. It appeared the bill was passed out of committee on the basis of what we perceive to be simply cheating.
The implication of this senator’s outburst that citizens should stand by in silence while politicians ramroded their own agendas through the process added salt to the wounds. We ended up with a feeling of powerlessness, something that should never happen in a governing system such as ours.
The power in a representative government rests with the people. We need to remember this during the next election and elect those who understand our governing system works from the bottom up, not the top down.