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Column: Let people see politicians in action

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Guest columnist Richard Eckstrom is the comptroller general of South Carolina.

Citizens who want to watch meetings of their local city or county council ought to be able to do so from the comfort of their own homes.
Now, many people are able to, thanks to a growing movement to broadcast city and county council meetings.
There are a couple of ways local governments can give citizens at home access to these important discussions. Some counties, such as Charleston, broadcast their meetings on cable television. Others, such as Horry, live-stream them on the Internet.
Currently, just a handful of counties show their council meetings online or on cable television, but that number appears likely to grow. At least two, Richland and Berkeley counties, are making arrangements to give citizens at-home access to their council meetings.
And while Anderson County Council’s meetings are now live-streamed via the Internet by a local TV station, the county is now working toward live-streaming the meetings itself, as well as showing them on a local cable channel.
They say sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I’ve long believed that transparency is the watchdog that ensures public officials conduct business in the interests of those they serve. Conducting the “people’s business” in full public view keeps our system of government healthy and holds leaders accountable. Transparency can also help restore the weakened trust between government officials and citizens.
One good way to pull back the curtains of government, so citizens can see how decisions that affect them are made, is by making meetings of public bodies available on the web. This affords busy people who might not have time to attend meetings the opportunity to witness them.
In fact, about a year ago I arranged for the S.C. Budget and Control Board to show its meetings online. As the state’s Comptroller, I‘m a member of that board.
In this Internet age in which we live, it’s easier than ever to bring government to the people… to let ordinary folks see their politicians in action. In fact, there’s no excuse not to.
If you agree, contact your local elected officials. Tell them transparency is always the best policy, and – if your county doesn’t already – tell them they’d do well to broadcast government meetings.
Providing greater access shows respect for taxpayers and improves the overall quality of government.