Government secretiveness not acceptable

Editorial

All levels of government need to be more open with the public they serve. So says a national survey the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University conducted earlier this year for the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

The survey’s results are part of how those of us wanting government to be more open are marking Sunshine Week, which began Sunday and goes through Saturday.

It’s “a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information,” according to Web site www.sunshineweek.org.

The results of one Ohio telephone survey of 1,008 adults conducted from Jan. 21 to Feb. 5 aren’t kind to those in government. While 60 percent found local governments to be “very open” or “somewhat open” and 53 percent categorized state governments in those ways, only 25 percent of respondents think the federal government is in any way open.

Do you suppose secret wire taps have anything to do with that? Perhaps the lumping of added spending in the form of earmarks to federal bills played a role? There are many causes for speculation about why 69 percent of respondents believe the federal government is either “somewhat secretive” or “very secretive,” but speculation is all it would be on our part.

The results aren’t surprising. At all levels of government, while you’re likely to encounter the occasional dedicated public servant, more often you’re dealing with a blowhard whose standard line is that “the people” put him there to do this or that.

Too often, an entrenched politician from a safe district takes that attitude and runs with it.

The public has the ultimate power to force more openness, and that is to turn out in greater numbers and more often to vote.

When it comes to how the government conducts business, however, we all are “the people.” And each one of us is as entitled as any other to know what is going on in government.

Government defining who is a journalist is a dangerous first step toward controlling the media. Beyond that, you might be interested in a public record that no media outlet has decided to report about. Your interest doesn’t go away simply because we haven’t requested the record.

While state and local governments fared much better than the federal government in the telephone poll, don’t confuse that for a sign of open government. Four out of 10 people in this country think the government in their home states are in some way secretive, while about a third think the local governments are.

An Associated Press survey in 2004 found public employees statewide followed open records law only about half the time. More openness in government is still needed at all levels.