REA serves members best by being open

Given the sorry state of access to public information in this state, the Ontonagon County Rural Electrification Association (REA) might be allowed to keep the press out of its meetings — maybe — but it is the underlying principle of access and information laws in this country that allowing access by the press, the only nongovernmental entity auhorized in the Constitution, is legal in all circumstances.

By the way, this includes records of all publicly funded governmental bodies, departments and agencies, with officials, employees and staff paid by the public using publicly funded equipment and resources in serving the public.

Sources that claim some kind of “law” prohibits them from releasing any kind of information they gather or possess as part of their functions are misinformed, lying or being willfully resistant in serving the public. That includes sensitive information the media would not necessarily report on, such as identifying juveniles or ongoing investigations.

The First Amendment authorizes and obligates the press to make the call on publishing information — not the government (which is monitored by the press).

So back to the local REA board, which claims only “members” are allowed at board and membership meetings. That claim is a disservice to their own members, especially the ones unable to attend meetings. They could be informed of what is happening at meetings if the local media was allowed to attend and report on what happened.

So it is pretty obvious this is just a tactic to keep the truth from coming out.

But in the case of the most recent membership meeting on June 17, that tactic was foiled. Because even though the REA kept a Daily Mining Gazette reporter out of the meeting, Bruce Johanson, an REA member who is also a reporter for the Ontonagon Herald, did DMG readers a solid and provided a detailed account of the meeting.

From Johanson’s reporting, and interviews with attendees outside the meeting, one can see why the REA administration and board wanted the keep the truth from coming out, given the election irregularities, bylaw violations and other various and sundry shenanigans raised by the membership.

Kudos to Johanson and the Herald for helping to get the truth out in public.

A Daily Mining Gazette editorial