Do you know what is being negotiated? What is being offered? What compromises are being proposed?
That's not surprising, because the developments from these vital water-war talks are being kept confidential. Indeed, residents of the three states might never have known that talks were taking place if the parties had not filed a motion last week. It asked U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson to issue an order that would guarantee that talks could continue behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, the judge agreed. Saying that confidentiality is needed in such a "complicated and inflammatory case," he told governors Bob Riley, Charlie Crist and Sonny Perdue that they could take care of business out of the prying eyes of the people who elected them or the free press that reports on their actions.
It's not unusual to hear public officials use the "complicated and inflammatory" argument. Those who accept it believe keeping meetings secret will remove politicians' natural temptation to play to the crowd and make grand statements designed to enhance their reputations rather than arrive at a solution. In other words, to demagogue it up for voters back home.
Yes, that might happen. But it does not justify this court order.
The public's right to know remains vital, especially in this case. Open-meetings laws that ensure residents will not be kept in the dark when critical matters are discussed exist for a reason. These laws reflect a general acknowledgement of the importance of government operating where the public can watch and judge.
Make no mistake; transparency in government is a key to democracy. If the people are not aware of what is taking place, if they are kept uninformed until a decision is reached, if there is no opportunity to critique and give input, then leaders no longer represent the people who chose them. In that case, they represent only themselves.
Yes, there is the danger that politicians will posture, play to the crowd and seek political points with the interests they serve. But, rest assured, if Riley, Perdue and Crist want to do that, they will find a way.
Five more meetings have been scheduled. It would be better for them to be open so that the public can not only see how negotiators act, but also know how negotiators reach a decision that will affect us all.
That is what democracy is all about. Unfortunately, democracy lost this one.