The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 1:00 am

Journal Entry

The business of public access

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Sunshine laws help voters monitor what elected officials are doing and taxpayers keep track of where their money is going on the local, state and national levels. Without those rules, too many important decisions could remain in the shadows.

But the laws don't apply to every organization or situation.

Privately owned businesses aren't affected by sunshine laws.

And neither are publicly traded businesses – although they are required by federal law to disclose certain information considered important to stockholders, including revenue, earnings, major lawsuits and key executives' employment status.

But the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn't require large corporations to reveal how much profit came from a specific location. That's information some local residents want to know about Lutheran Health Network, for example, but parent company Community Health Systems isn't saying – and doesn't have to.

Business leaders cite competitive reasons for keeping plans secret.

And that's undoubtedly valid in many cases, even though it's frustrating not to know whether Trader Joe's is coming to town or The Cheesecake Factory would consider opening a restaurant here.

If and when those announcements come, they likely will be made when the companies are good and ready.

Another form of economic development, the public-private partnership, is a hybrid that doesn't fit neatly into either category. Some elements of such projects, including Electric Works and The Landing, rely on public money, so elected officials are obligated to discuss and approve them in public meetings.

The private side of the partnership, however, often dictates the timetable of when those public discussions can happen, not agreeing to talk openly about projects until executives believe the time is right. 


Sherry Slater is the business reporter for The Journal Gazette.

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