As reporters, we are often forced to remind public employees of the fact that they work for the public. We’ve had several clerks refuse to hand over records we knew we had a right to see, and we prevailed. We recently covered a city council meeting where votes did not meet the measure of the law, and when we spoke up, the votes were nullified. Then there were the accident and disciplinary reports we were denied after a city ambulance collided with a semi-truck on its way to the hospital. (We got the reports.)
We pursue these courses of action not for some perverse pleasure in upsetting the applecart, or to simply “afflict the comfortable.” We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because it’s our duty to speak up when we see wrongs that should be righted. We do it because we recognize that “government” is not some abstract, giant monstrosity in far-away Washington, D.C., or a group of large, elderly gentlemen in the expensive three-piece suits smoking cigars and holding tumblers of Scotch in a dark conference room, meting out punishment and rewards to the peons.
“We” are government. Government is the men and women who choose to work for us, from the city councilor who takes phone calls from constituents at all hours of the night, to the firefighter and police officer who go to work each day not knowing what risks the day may bring, to the clerk charged by law with keeping and safeguarding important documents.
And the school employee.
Yes, each dedicates his or her life to public service. And that is certainly to be commended. We thank you and we wish you well.
We also pay you.
That dedication to public service (is there any public employee who should not be “dedicated to public service?”) does not merit blanket protection from inspection and scrutiny. In fact, we believe it does the opposite. Because government workers are public servants, it means they are more subject to public scrutiny, not the other way around. They are, after all, obliged to carry out tasks as assigned by our public representatives.
Thank you, Chief Justice Taylor, for standing up for what’s right.