OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: The people’s turn

Now that lawyers have had their turn debating the proposed constitutional enshrinement of the state's Freedom of Information Act back and forth for weeks, it's the people's turn.

That means each citizen has an opportunity to make his or her voice heard by signing a petition to help place this hallowed document on the November ballot.

Some 90,000 legal signatures are needed before July. Let's get over 100,000.

Since the amendment would benefit we the people rather than special interests, I'm asking readers to please make the effort to sign and help permanently champion transparency and accountability from our elected public servants. It is a rare opportunity to make an historical difference in a necessary freedom for us, our children and theirs, and we must stand and be counted for this rare opportunity.

Petitions are circulating. Meetings are being scheduled soon across Arkansas to explain the amendment, according to Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, an organizer of the petition movement.

A proven legal champion of FOIA, McCutchen told me it's been a struggle to get this amendment into voters' hands.

"'We the People' recently won another battle in the continuing war on our right to know, when Attorney General Tim Griffin certified the people's two-pronged approach to making Arkansas' FOIA the nation's strongest by enshrining its principles in our Constitution as a fundamental right," he said.

"The people, in forcing Griffin, by a lawsuit, symbolized the continuing theme of the People v. Griffin/The Government. Our government and the political establishment have forgotten our state motto: 'Regnat Populus'--the people rule. We are forcibly reminding them."

McCutchen said the next shots in the struggle have been fired by the people launching this grass-roots statewide signature-gathering campaign fielded by volunteers. "Every legislator and politician in the state needs to join everyday Arkansans in parking lots across Arkansas in gathering signatures and donating to support our right to know," he continued. "Otherwise, elected government officials should face the dire consequences at the ballot box in upcoming elections.

"This bold move by the people to enshrine FOIA in our constitution has become necessary because of sustained governmental attempts to do our business in darkness by incrementally destroying sunshine laws. A win by the citizens in November ensures Arkansas will forever have transparency through the country's strongest sunshine laws. A loss will give government a license to backroom deal-making.

"The stakes have never been higher for our right to know. The choice is where it belongs: In the hands of We the People."

Ears ringing

I'd really never thought we needed a Ring camera and light on the front of our home in Harrison. With this community of 13,069 being so relatively peaceful and concerned neighbors keeping track of what transpires in their neighborhoods, it seemed a bit excessive and unnecessary.

But I relented last month and we installed a system that rings clearly when it detects movement outside. I'm absolutely certain the neighbors are pleased we chose not to enable the optional siren from blaring when the light flashes on.

In the six weeks since we mounted the camera, a pattern has emerged. While there have been no intruders, home invaders or cat burglars, we are now aware our front porch is a busy place as a late-night hangout for feral and neighborhood cats.

The reason, I discovered, was that kindhearted Jeanetta has been leaving cat food in a bowl out in the evening.

Beginning a while after dark each evening (and stretching well into the wee hours) we've come to expect ringing almost like clockwork and checking the cell phone cameras as cats come and go.

The feline freeloading express runs pretty much like this: 8 p.m. "ring!" The phone picture shows a cat arriving, 10 p.m. "ring!" Another cat arrives as the first one leaves. Midnight arrives, "ring!" The third cat shows up. Between 2 and 3 a.m "ring!" Another cat is photographed. Sometimes around 5, another "ring!" as a final arrival joins the banquet.

Look, I'm a believer in being kind to animals, always have been, and I like the Ring overall. But being awakened throughout the night by the startling "ring!" means something soon will have to give. I must sleep. Rather than a warning device for possible intruders, ours has basically become a cat arrival and departure doorbell.

If we'd left the siren synced with the light, oh my. I imagine the neighbors would have already arrived on our doorstep with pitchforks and torches well before now.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].

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