In an inexplicable, but rare, bout of integrity, the New Jersey legislature years ago passed a pair of “Open Government” laws, applicable to municipal and similar government bodies.
The Open Public Meetings Act, passed in 1975, stipulated standards for public access to meetings – when closed meetings could be held, what needed to be recorded during those deliberations, etc.
The Open Public Records Act, passed in 2002, stipulated that anyone could purchase such records at reasonable cost, and the clerk of the appropriate municipality had to comply within seven business days.
One of our members, John Paff (who also was our most recent – and first – candidate for Lieutenant Governor last year), took that opportunity, and under the umbrella of the New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project, started trying to peek into local government activities. For one of his projects, Paff examines the dockets of federal and state courts for recently settled cases where the defendant was a government official. He then requests the settlement agreements and publishes them on his blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/
Another project is to seek the minutes of a government body’s nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meetings. Often, these minutes are heavily redacted—blacked out to prevent public access to what is argued to be confidential—and that secrecy is itself revealing. For his work on this and similar issues, see his blog at http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/
There is a lot of good press to be garnered from this project, and any time Mr. Paff is contacted by a reporter, he makes sure to credit this project as belonging to the New Jersey Libertarian Party.
Why do I choose this for my first LP-hosted blog posting? Because this is not an opportunity that should be limited to New Jersey, and I encourage Libertarians everywhere else to pursue this.
First, if your state does not have anything like the laws I mentioned above, apply pressure – as a Party, as Candidates, as residents of your state – to adopt such legislation.
Second, once those laws are in place, find individuals competent to write clearly and dispassionately, get a list of municipalities (with postal or e-mail addresses), and start writing. Scan local newspapers anywhere in your state as well as federal and state dockets for information about town settlements of suits, and contact the reporter when you learn the settlement details. Establish lines of communication with those reporters. They’re always on the lookout for juicy stories, and here you are, ready to do some of their job – all you want is publicity (spell my name correctly, credit the state LP affiliate).