Editorial: Stepping forward to the light

Mar. 18, 2014 @ 11:15 PM

In the myriad ways to know if an award really has meaning, consider one by the N.C. Press Association.

The Lassiter Award is not given every year. It recognizes those who champion the First Amendment freedoms our Founding Fathers put in place and, until last month, had not been awarded since 2010.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Republican representing District 40 in the N.C. House of Representatives, earned the award this year and stands apart from many of her colleagues on Jones Street. It isn’t because she’s a conservative Republican, takes care of constituents in northwestern Wake County or stood before hundreds of journalists and said she’d live to tell about it.

She stood up to the darkness of government, passionately battling for the people as some counties sought to post notice of public meetings online only rather than in the local newspaper as the law requires.

John Bussian, legal counsel to the press association and a veteran of Jones Street battles, called it an act of political courage. Avila said she was just doing her job.

True, but she realized the magnitude at the moment it mattered. And she boldly stepped forward.

As we celebrate Sunshine Week, Avila’s fight is but one element. Her stand was in a spotlight, with our state lawmakers, with the eyes of the press watching and reporting.

But her message resonates to every level, going to smaller communities throughout the state and to the bigger reaches inside the Beltway.

She described issues, and bills both good and bad, as never dying once they reach the General Assembly. They just go “comatose” then return.

Vigilance is necessary. Eyes and ears must be open.

Doing the work of the public out of the public’s eye is among the most egregious of actions for any public servant. These are the trusted leaders, the ones we look to for guidance and execution of responsibilities that affect us.

Words and actions must go together. Transparency in government is a must, and Avila said moving public notices to a place fewer people would see them was exactly the opposite.

Open government is a responsibility for all of us, not just state representatives. It is a fight we must win together.