When state Sen. Cam Ward brought his bill to rewrite Alabama’s open records law before the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the senator said there hadn’t been a bill this popular since the Legislature raised gas taxes earlier this year.
It was a joke, obviously, and Ward was trying to defuse a line of angry or frustrated interest groups who clearly didn’t like his legislation.
Curiously, all those special interest groups didn’t represent citizens or even the monied interests that feed at the government’s trough.
Instead, they were lobbyists for county commissions, the league of municipalities, tax assessors and school boards who opposed it.
You know — bureaucrats and the elected officials they serve. And at the Alabama State House, they have the home field advantage.
Alabama’s open records law has major weaknesses — weaknesses that local governments, boards and agencies have used to make our government as inaccessible as they care to be whenever it suits them.
Sally Smith, the executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, was pleasant enough when she promised to work with Ward to improve his bill. In Montgomery-ese that means it needs to die or be watered down until it’s meaningless.
“I don’t know that it serves the public for every email or text message to be considered an open record,” Smith told the committee.
This system, as it exists now, doesn’t serve the public interest. It serves people like former Gov. Robert Bentley, whose press aide said he didn’t really do text messages and email. It serves Alabama sheriffs who don’t want to show how they spend jail food funds that wind up in their pockets. It serves all those public employees, paid by your tax dollars, who want to keep the public's business secret.
It serves the people who lined up to fight this bill in committee this week.