Saturday, June 12, 2010

New blog for Rockcastle County starts with open-government concerns

Issues of open government are the topic of the first post in a new blog for Rockcastle County, where a local water association has barred its customers from attending its board meetings "despite numerous protests by many of its water-user members," blogger Elmer Whitler writes on Rockcastle County News, which he says is "devoted to news and opinion on events and conditions important for improving life for all those who live in Rockcastle County." (Wikipedia map)

The KOG Blog reported on the Eastern Rockcastle Water Association about a year ago, when Attorney General Jack Conway ruled that the association was not covered by the state Open Records Act because it gets less than 25 percent of its annual revenue from the state, and is in no way subject to the Open Meetings Act. "Water users seeking admission to the monthly meetings of the ERWA board have been threatend with arrest and confronted by deputies and the Rockcastle County sheriff," Whitler writes. He notes that Kentucky has 22 non-profit water associations, which "are spending millions of taxpayer dollars they obtain through state and federal grants for water system development. There is little focused regulatory oversight in Frankfort of how these funds are spent."

Whitler is director of research for the Office of Rural Health Policy in the medical school at the University of Kentucky. His work is separate from his blog, but informs it. He writes, "The abuse of openness and the public's right to know is most prevalent in counties that are characterized as high-poverty, low-education, and low-job-opportunity counties. There is a long tradition in these counties of the use of negative forms of political manipulation and control over meager economic resources. It seems that high levels of poverty, illiteracy, and low civic participation are necessary for this form of destructive politics to thrive. This whole process is aided and abetted by keeping the local citizens ignorant of what is being done." Elmer Whitler is trying to change that in his community. Does your community face similar problems? What are you doing about them?