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Taxpayers deserve accountability

The business of government is a costly enterprise, and its stockholders, the people of Mississippi, must feed the treasury year after year to keep the state, counties, towns and cities afloat.

Last year, Mississippi taxpayers ponied up billions to complete their part of the social contract that keeps democracy of, for, and by the people - and the people's pocketbook - alive.

But, in what might be considered a not-so-kind twist to the partnership of people and politicians, those who pass the laws have constantly chosen to limit the information that is shared with the very people who elect them and fund their activities.

At every turn, you will discover where state lawmakers have tightened the flow of information about government that the electorate needs to make informed decisions.

Elected officials too often subvert the public's right to important information when they acquire the paternalistic - even arrogant - notion that they know what is best for us. They continually take steps such as closed-door meetings and create exemptions to state laws intended to keep government open.

Who is protected by acts cloaked in secrecy? An inquiring public shut off from its own business or public officials who want to avoid responsibility for their actions?

News organizations across Mississippi have produced an eight-day series of reports about secrecy in government. These articles represent an extraordinary effort by reporters and editors who are concerned that the lack of transparency in Mississippi is harmful to the state's well-being.

Offering this information will give people across the state a clearer understanding of why openness in government is important to every person who cares about how their tax dollars are spent and what their elected representatives do in the conduct of their offices.

We believe that more information will lead to broader engagement, and that in turn will help us to make smarter decisions about the government that we are required to support.

These articles will tell the true stories of how the secret state works and what the consequences are for the people of our state.

Transparency. If there is one word that the series stands for that is the word. It is the antidote for secrecy. Knowing about the business of government should be the goal of those who believe their participation in the political process is deserving of the fullest set of facts possible - from the simple reporting of who gives money to whom in a political campaign, to your access to law enforcement records.

You will perhaps be shocked to learn that as many in law enforcement interpret the Public Records law, you are not even entitled to know a crime has been committed in your neighborhood. There are many other chilling facts that you will learn during these eight days about how information is tightly held from the public in Mississippi.

Currently, the deck is significantly stacked against citizens who want to know simple information about their government. It is almost impossible for the ordinary person to "fight City Hall" given the artfully crafted barriers that have been erected over the years.

The hope of those who are participating in this effort is that you will better understand how your right to information about your government is restricted. You may be assured that did not happen by accident, but rather by design and constant hard work by those who want you kept in the dark.

We hope the series will be the beginning of a continuing effort to make government more accessible to all the people of Mississippi.

We ask you to read the series and decide for yourselves whether the secret state is helpful or harmful to you as a citizen. If you agree that transparency is a goal worth pursuing, we hope you will add your voice to ours in insisting that our lawmakers shed light on the hidden corners of our state, county and city governments.

We believe you are entitled to the truth.