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Taxpayers deserve better protection

How do you place a fair value on the public’s best interest? What’s the going rate for integrity, honesty and openness?

Those are tough questions. Accurate answers are difficult, if not impossible, to determine.

Honesty, integrity and openness all are priceless traits that our state and local governments must possess.

Under current state law, however, politicians can trample those traits with little fear of retribution, at least until re-election time.

The $100 maximum penalty for breaking Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act is less than that assessed on a heavy-footed grandma who gets caught doing 67 mph in a 55 mph zone.

More troubling still is taxpayers must pay the fine.

For years, media outlets and public interest groups have complained about Mississippi’s gelatinous open meetings laws.

Increasingly, however, the folks lobbying for tighter laws are not just the usual suspects. Joe and Jill Mississippian, who are fed up with elected officials working in secret, are complaining, too.

Finally, hope for change exists this legislative year.

Several bills that would bolster enforcement of Mississippi’s Open Meeting Act are working through the Legislature.

HB 314 would increase the fines for Open Meetings Act violations up to $500 for the first violation and up to $1,000 for subsequent violations. In addition, the proposed law would hold elected officials personally responsible — rather than taxpayers — for paying such a fine.

A similar bill has already cleared the Senate.

We urge lawmakers to pass the measures and clearly send a message that taxpayers’ best interests have a high value in Mississippi.

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