Transparency in government is what every citizen needs to know he has in his pocket when it comes to a democracy. Whether it be federal, state, county, city, school board or any kind of service district we want our officials to be forthcoming, not only with what they have done, but also with what they are doing at one time or another.
Unfortunately, sometimes we realize how our government tries to cover things up to deceive us.
All that came to my attention quite clearly a couple of weeks ago, when I was informed someone was trying to place a legal notice in our paper, but the pieces of that placement didn't fit.
During a time I was out of town for a couple of days our production manager received an email from a man claiming to be the city recorder for a town called Woodard City and he wanted to know the cost of running a legal in our paper. We often get these kinds of requests and he asked a number of questions per the subject, such as cost per line, what days it would run, etc. But as this on-line questioning progressed, the production manager became suspicious of the person's intentions, wondering why all the questions, and more specifically why a town that was not in the area wanted to run a legal in the local paper.
That day one of the reporters did a little checking for her and found that there was no town in Utah named Woodard City, except that one that disappeared from existence more than 100 years ago.
When I came back to work on Monday, the pair of them told me about the emails she had received. As I started looking at the email address, I realized that the messages had been sent from a Utah.gov address, which meant they came from somewhere in Utah state government. At that point I started to do a little more research.
I found the man's name (which was somewhat unusual) in a number of places on the web, including that he had been a student at an in-state university and that he had been hired by the state as an employee a couple of years ago. But where he had been hired was most interesting; in the state legislative auditor's office.
At that point I put two and two together. Many powerful state representatives are backing bills to eliminate the regulations that say public entities must put legal notices in papers in the state, but can advertise them on the web instead. What this employee of the state was trying to find out was how much we charged so they could do some math and find out how much governments are spending on legals in our area.
As far as I am concerned, to ask for that information is fine. But to ask for it by trying to deceive us, by acting like an employee, an elected official in a city government is wrong in my book and I hope in yours too.
On Monday that same state employee called me, correctly identified himself and his position and asked a question about how much we had been paid by various government entities in the last year for running their legals. At that point I let him have it about lying to my staff. He said he couldn't see anything wrong with what he had done; he said it was only an example and they were trying to get a handle on the costs. But nowhere in the emails did he identify himself as a state legislative auditor; in fact at the bottom of the "example" legal it denoted he was the "City Recorder" of Woodard City.
This is an instance of how our government has deteriorated over the years. Many of the bureaucrats and politicians who run it don't know right from wrong, and worse, don't care.
As much has I have dealt with this kind of thing in the years that I worked in state government, it never ceases to amaze me.
If bureaucrats and politicians can't be transparent about getting a simple piece of information from a private business, how can they be honest about the things that go on deep inside our state government; things that really matter?
It's something we all need to think about when we talk with our representatives and officials about changes in laws that permit governmental entities to hide away governmental information in obscure places on the internet by changing laws that allow open public access.