Sunshine Week: disclosure's benefits justify potential sting

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Del Mar RestaurantAs a pat of my role on the Palladium-Item editorial board, I have a viewpoints piece in today's paper about Sunshine Week 2012, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

If you've followed this blog you know that I am a consistent advocate for transparency in government leadership, and the topic was raised a number of times during last year's election season.  I appreciate the paper bringing focus to this issue, and look forward to the conversations that result.

Here's the full text of my editorial submitted for today's edition:

Most people don't like to have their judgment questioned or their mis-steps revealed, less so in front of other people. It's human nature to want to be well regarded and to avoid embarrassment. So we can empathize with elected officials and other community leaders who don't like the "burning sensation" that can come when their decisions or deliberations are exposed to the bright light of the public view.

But does the potential sting of that exposure mean we should shy away from the pursuit of transparency in those matters? Or do the potential dangers of power abused for personal gain, fraudulent use of taxpayer resources or other wrongs trump the temporary personal discomfort of those who have asked to be representatives of each of us in matters that affect all of us?

Maybe we can't imagine a modern "Watergate" happening at the local or state level, and we know that most public servants are trying to do the right thing most of the time. But we also know that regardless of political party affiliation or the best of intentions, human beings are complex and historically subject to the temptations of influence and authority. We also know that in difficult economic times, there is no room for even the trivial mis-use of tax dollars.

So let our community leaders strive not just to meet the basic legal requirements of disclosure and transparency, but to proactively offer the documents, reports, data and on-the-record conversations that will make members of the public their collaborators in government efficiency, instead of their adversaries in a struggle for power and information. Let those who have volunteered to be stewards of our hard-earned dollars be completely accountable to our questions, our concerns, our challenges to their judgment...even when it's uncomfortable, and even when it might lead to embarrassment. And when an elected official struggles with the burdens of disclosure or the challenges of transparency, let the rest of us affirm with our words and our votes that we will always reward those who favor sunshine over secrecy.

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