The advocates for openness

Published June 24, 2007

The legacy of the newly appointed Open Government Reform Commission won't be written until 2009, when its recommendations face a Legislature that has typically resisted the sunshine. But Gov. Charlie Crist, in establishing this new advisory board, continues to set an example worth emulating.

Just look at some of the members Crist appointed. The chairwoman is Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation and the bane of some lawmakers' existence. She is joined by the incoming president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors ( Times deputy managing editor Jeanne Grinstead), by a former American Bar Association president who has represented newspapers, and by a former attorney general who had a reputation for upholding open government laws.

This is a commission not likely to favor the expansion of secrecy in government documents or meetings. And Crist has given it free rein: "To put limitations on it would be counterproductive. Whatever they hear from the people is important."

The agenda won't suffer from a shortage of issues. The number of exemptions to public record laws, for example, has grown from roughly 250 to 1, 000 in the past two decades. Enforcement of open meeting and public records laws has been scattered, at best, particularly when it comes to city and county governments. Some important state boards, such as the Executive Clemency Board and the Judicial Qualifications Commission, enjoy far too much secrecy with work that commands public attention.

To Crist, open government is consistent with his pledge to treat Floridians as his bosses. They deserve, in other words, to know what their employees are up to. Far too many of his fellow Republicans have failed in the past to recognize that openness is consistent with their own political ideals. A government that is forced to transact its business in public is more likely to be constrained in its approach. One of the reasons Congress has been unable to control pork-barrel spending, for example, is that the annual budgetary earmarks have been hidden from view.

In creating this commission, Crist is inviting more transparency in government. The people deserve it.