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Ever More Open Society – Except in Government

We live in the information age.  A quick web search, and you can find information about almost anything.  Overall, I think this is a good thing.  In my mind knowledge is power.  The ability to learn and find answers quickly makes overcoming some previously insurmountable challenges surmountable.

Yet, there is one place in our society where open sharing of information is seemingly going in the wrong direction. Ironically, this place is called the “public sector.”

New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act is meant to help ensure public involvement and to prevent backroom deals in state and local government, but violations of the law are widespread, an investigation by The Independent has found. School boards, universities, town councils, county and state commissions, and boards across the state have broken the law, casting a shroud of secrecy over government officials’ deliberations and bargaining.

Violating the Open Meetings law can contribute to a culture of political secrecy and corruption, Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah Welsh told The Independent. It also raises questions about the legality of decisions reached based on issues discussed during illegally convened closed sessions.

And, it’s not just the violation of open meetings that is troublesome:

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says a state agency violated the Inspection of Public Records Act when it redacted information from public documents before giving them to Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh.

Now it appears the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) is in the process of correcting that violation.

Sarah Welsh, the sunshine group’s executive director, recently made her own request for some of the public records DFA had provided to Weh with redactions. The agency provided the records to Welsh without redactions, which allowed her to see that DFA had inappropriately blacked out routine information – such as handwritten notations of account numbers or notes such as “OK to pay” – before providing the documents to Weh.

“They provided different information to me and to the Weh campaign, which is not the way it’s supposed to work,” Welsh said.

Story after story have shown that increasingly all levels of public government feel free to act with impunity in keeping the public in the dark:

Attorney General Gary King is accusing Gov. Bill Richardson of violating the state open-records act by withholding the names of those in the 59 political jobs Richardson said he eliminated.

“It seems implausible that your office would make a formal announcement (about the layoffs) when it had no set of records to support its numerical assertion,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Albert Lama wrote in an opinion this week. “It creates the impression that some staff member in the Governor’s Office possesses, contrary to your response letter’s assertions, records pertaining to the 59 exempt employees …

At some point, the voters are going to say enough is enough.  And, it’s increasingly looking like that point may occur this November.