Forecast: Increasing Clouds Over Government Transparency

I freely admit that I am a little naïve.  Each year, I assume the Reds will win the World Series, Notre Dame will win the BCS and XU will make the final four.  I don’t assume the Bengals will win the Super Bowl. I am naïve, not crazy. And my naiveté causes me to assume that every citizen would be in favor of government transparency. Who wouldn’t want to be able to see what leaders are up to? And not just for idle curiosity – but for the simple reason that transparency leads to accountability.

But I am afraid that I am setting myself up for disappointment. Here is the most recent report from the  Ohio Coalition for Open Government.   It paints a bleak picture for fans of open government in Ohio.   Between Ohio Court rulings and legislative action, it is getting harder for the public to access records and meetings and to hold accountable those government bodies that violate the law.  

The latest effort to throw a curtain over government operations comes courtesy of  State Senator Joe Uecker, from Ohio’s 14th District.  Senator Uecker wants to prevent the media from having any access to concealed carry permits issued in Ohio, absent a court order. Senator Uecker seems to think Ohio desperately needs this legislation because a newspaper in New York, following the massacre in Sandy Hook, published a map showing the location of gun permit holders in the area serviced by the newspaper. 

Senator Uecker seems unfazed by the fact that:  1) New York public records laws are completely different than Ohio’s; 2) There is no inherent “privacy right” to concealed carry permits; and 3) The statute allowing journalists to review the records has been in place since 2004, and Senator Uecker can’t point to one instance where an Ohio newspaper has done what the New York newspaper did.

It is worth noting that under the existing law, journalists can look at the records, but can’t make copies or even take notes.  So unless a journalist has the recall skill of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, it would be virtually impossible to do in Ohio what the New York newspaper did.  But who cares about facts?  Because of one outlying, out of state anecdote Senator Uecker would eliminate the public’s ability to check whether local sheriffs are properly issuing permits.  I am not so naïve that believe all public servants are 100% competent or honest.  So, let’s just say a local sheriff is just too busy to do the job thoroughly and routinely grants permits to unqualified people? The current system allows for some accountability.  Senator Uecker’s bill would eliminate that power. 

And that seems ironic, given Senator Uecker’s stated beliefs – especially this one (from his Web site):

Small government is a better government for the people
. . . government must be limited so that it never becomes powerful enough to infringe on the rights of individuals.

I guess I think a really good way to make sure government doesn’t become too powerful is to allow citizens to check up on what it’s doing.  But Senator Uecker seems to feel otherwise.  Too bad for the people of Ohio, who surely deserve better.  But what do I know? I’m kind of naïve.