Sunday, May 13, 2007

Finally, an Editorial About Transparency

The Picayune finally ran an editorial about Nagin Administration secrecy in yesterday's paper. But it's only appeared in the print edition, if you look online, you'll only see yesterday's editorial about the LRA. It's Sunday night as I type this, it may appear online tomorrow.

Since there's no online edition to cut-and-paste from, I'll just give a quick rundown of the good and the bad, or the good and the missing (or misplaced).

The good includes the title: The hush-hush administration, and a reminder of the mayor's first inaugural address:
This future city government must be open and accessible to everyone. Its operations must be apparent and accountable. It communicates with people in a clear and timely manner.

The editorial then goes on to list some examples of what it terms "the growing pattern of secrecy that prevails at City Hall." It even mentions Brian Denzer and NOPD secrecy about crime statistics.

That's the good, but in addition to being misplaced online, the editorial is also misplaced at the bottom of the editorial page. The mayor not only made transparency a focal of his first inaugural address, it was a major promise of the 100 day plan for his second term. If the mayor is going to make a mockery of one his signature promises, that surely deserves a top of the page editorial. There'd easily be enough material to make it a full page editorial.

When he promised transparency at the start of his second term, the mayor had clearly begun work on the new garbage contracts, yet he kept quiet about the contracts until the city council had no choice but to accept them. That's real transparency.

If the Picayune is reluctant to question the mayor's integrity, it could at least point out that secrecy always leads to "questionable" spending practices. Some in Washington have already noticed those practices.

One might also expect that an editorial about the mayor's broken promises of transparency would also mention the administration's habit of responding to reporters' questions with demands for written FOIA requests --requests that it consistently ignores. There was also no mention of the administration's tendency to give contradictory, meaningless or just plain nonsensical answers to questions.

With a full-length editorial, the Picayune could have even gone into some of the more general reasons why transparency is needed for any project as big as rebuilding a city. To my way of thinking, those reasons fall into two broad general categories. Excessive secrecy leads to even more waste of money, which leads to more uncompleted projects and other fiscal problems. Also, whatever rebuilding decisions are made, some people are going to disagree. Excessive secrecy can only lead to more rancor and bitterness on the part of residents who are unhappy with those decisions and help justify charges of conspiracies or crooked insider deals.

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