An e-mail sent by Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine:
From the Desk of Steven R. Shine
Allen County Republicans have set the gold standard for openness and transparency in local government. That much cannot be disputed. Our record speaks for itself, loudly and with conviction.
We believe deeply in the public’s right to know what their government is up to. Republican elected officeholders have backed up that belief with action and legislation time after time. Long ago, Allen County Republicans discarded the idea that government works better when the citizens simply “trust us.”
You now have unfettered online access to information about where your money is being spent and who government does business with because Republicans put it there. You have access to decades worth of documents and data online, information government previously made available on its terms, not yours, because Republicans officeholders put it there. An unprecedented spectrum of government meetings is broadcast on television and online, because Republicans thought that is the way it should be. The days when taxpayers had to sacrifice their scarce time and travel to the Courthouse just to be informed citizens – something all of us should aspire to be – are dead and gone forever.
Republicans, uniquely and of their own initiative in most cases, threw open the doors to government and invited the public in. We do it all the time and believe that open doors are essential to good government. But that is apparently not enough for The Journal Gazette.
The public has said time and time again that it does not care to see politicians bicker and fight. They want us to do the public’s business, openly and transparently in public, but without soap opera drama. Apparently, however, The Journal Gazette wants to see drama and conflict and falsely accused Allen County Republicans of secrecy and of settling our differences behind closed doors.
The accusation, made in an editorial published on Tuesday, Aug, 23, is nonsense, pure and simple. It has never been our way and never will be our way so long as I am Chairman.
On Aug. 16, 2011, I invited members of the Allen County Council and the County Commissioners to a political caucus. I personally delivered notice of this meeting to The Journal Gazette, not exactly the action of someone trying to cloak a meeting in secrecy. I called this meeting to settle personality conflicts that arose between the two bodies during recent budget talks – not, as the newspaper suggests, to settle matters of policy behind closed doors.
Indiana’s Open Door Law clearly allows for such a caucus. The newspaper’s contention that “officials could easily decide the (budget) issue in the caucus and simply cast a public vote later” is simply not true. The law does not allow that in a political caucus. It is my duty as chairman and as an attorney responsible for abiding by the law to make sure we conform to the permitted parameters of a caucus.
To insinuate that we might do otherwise is an insult to an organization that has made openness a hallmark of its public service. We do not look upon openness as a perk to be doled out to citizens when we feel like it. We consider it essential and our record has clearly demonstrated that.
This caucus is being held to settle personality differences, not policy matters. Families call their members to the dinner table to discuss how they treat each other. They do not take their fights into the middle of the street to settle them in full view of the neighbors. That is not openness. It is voyeurism.
Our state’s public access laws allow for other public business to be conducted behind closed doors, matters involving personnel, legal proceedings, collective bargaining and negotiations with economic development prospects. These are matters of real importance to citizens, yet The Journal Gazette raises no objection to them. It only objects to our desire to settle our personal differences so that we can get back to doing the public’s business, openly and in the full light of day.
Rather than meddle in the affairs of a political party with which it clearly disagrees, perhaps The Journal Gazette should focus on changing state law’s loopholes that actually impact public policy. Perhaps it should work toward more access to single-executive offices, like that of the Mayor, where discussions and decisions happen every day without the benefit of public scrutiny.
The Journal Gazette does not advocate for city department heads to boycott Mayoral staff meetings, yet it insists that those I have invited should skip a legal and legitimate political caucus.
If it desires to be viewed a champion of the public’s right to know, The Journal Gazette should focus its ire on those who have yet to embrace the concept. Making false accusations of secrecy against those who clearly embrace openness does the public no good at all.
Steven R. Shine, Chairman
The Republican Party of Allen County