By editorial board • 

State transparency initiative promises to pay off for public

In our experience, agencies at all levels tend to consider records as personal rather than public documents.

They claim confidentiality at every turn, hoping to conceal even the most routine activities from the scrutiny of the press and public. Give them an opportunity to delay or deny, and they will be sorely tempted to take full advantage.

Sometimes it’s hard to even pry loose a timely police report, despite the fact crime is a paramount concern for the vast majority of citizens and media accounts represent their only viable pipeline for information.

For many agencies, it’s even worse with financial matters. They are guarded like the gold in Fort Knox.

It is, thus, most encouraging to see Secretary of State Dennis Richardson turn his office into a paragon of fiscal transparency — and to draft legislation designed to put the rest of state government on the same track over the next two years. Hopefully he will succeed at the state level, and the practice will eventually seep down to cities, counties, school districts and other arms of local government.

Not all agencies have poor track records, of course. Some, in fact, make openness a mission. And we commend them for it.

But encountering needless roadblocks is something we observe with discouraging frequency. We would like to see all agencies, be they state or local, treat the public as a partner in the process, not a prying outsider to be fended off at all costs.

The Secretary of State’s office has a longstanding practice of detailing all budget numbers, including payroll expenditures, online in real time. Interested members of the public don’t need to visit Salem in an attempt to pry loose paper files or pore over records six to 18 months out of date, which is the case with many other state agencies.

Now it has codified that in an administrative rule and drafted legislation, SB 222, to expand the practice statewide by 2020. Virtually all state agencies use the same software as the Secretary of State’s office, so nothing should stand in the way of prompt implementation.

We have been ordained a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It’s time officials at all levels did a better job of reflecting that fact in their pursuit of the public’s business.

They virtually all talk a good talk. The challenge lies in backing it up by walking the good walk.


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