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Our Opinion: Audit finds dismal lack of transparency

Our Opinion: Audit finds dismal lack of transparency

News Tribune Editorial

November 27th, 2016 by News Tribune in Opinion

Transparency in government was a topic of much discussion in advance of the November election, but a recent state audit indicates government officials talk a better game than they play.

The root of the problem is when government officials assume a defensive posture in response to open records requests, even of the most mundane variety.

That posture is exemplified in this response from a township trustee in a Missouri county who told the Associated Press: "We don't release any information until they identify who they are, who they represent and what they're going to do with the information because we don't know who wants to do what with what."

Wrong answer.

An open record — by definition and by state law — is open to anyone for any reason.

We are troubled by the recent findings by State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who reported noncompliance with a majority of routine open records requests submitted in August to more than 300 cities, villages, school districts and other government entities.

The auditor's office requested basic records — agendas, recent meeting minutes — and did not use its official letterhead to determine how government entities would respond to a routine public inquiry.

The response was dismal; the auditor reported only 30 percent fully complied.

Noncompliance took a variety of forms, including requests being ignored completely, answered late or accompanied by unjustifiable fees.

Galloway said the results "demonstrate that we have a long way to go in improving government transparency."

Transparency must not be construed as an obstacle to good government.

We understand that government officials may be wary of "gotcha" journalism practiced by media members promoting an agenda. We don't like it either; it besmirches us all.

But local media members, for the most part, and local government officials are not adversaries.

We share a common goal to keep the public informed about what government officials are discussing, doing and considering.

Sunshine — as outlined in the state's open meetings and open records law — is good for everyone. And it's the law.

Don't stand in its way.