Newspapers let the sun shine for community

Ideally, we wouldn’t have reason to distrust our leaders.

Skepticism is healthy, lest we all blindly subscribe to The Doctrine. But distrust is a powerful word, blatantly stating disbelief in intention or capability.

Seventy-three percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center poll indicated they distrust the federal government in January, while only 26 percent said they trust Washington just about always or most of the time.

While that distrust hovers around record levels, our state leaders gave the public reason to question their motives last year.

As state government invoked its “deliberative process” exemption to public records requests liberally last year, lawsuits were drafted in attempt to pry documents from the basement, the clean copies sans the black-box redactions.

The records exemption was used to block reporters from discovering why the alternative fuel vehicle tax credit was applied to certain makes and models, the thinking behind the allocation of vouchers to private schools and emails offering insight to the expansion of a highway.

The exemption was signed into state law in 2009, backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal two years after passage of the ethics reform package he continues to trumpet.

Perhaps the disconnect in those two ideas contributes to the lack of trust. In one hand is a banner touting an ethics package that state and national watchdogs have equated to the anteater, while the clenched fist behind the back grasps a vaguely scribed law that amounts to a virtually limitless eraser. Both hands, it can be simply argued, hold a key to extending a politician’s career.

Perception drives opinion. Whether information is withheld to protect a public official’s image through blocking dissenting arguments waged in deliberation or to hide ethical or legal questions, it is obfuscation of the truth in a society framed as free and open.

As usual, it begins with education. A populous informed on policy pros and cons can dictate its direction more ably. Records, meetings and, to a large extent, reasoning must be made available to the taxpayers. Otherwise, special-interest money, superfluous action and unscrupulous logic are free to take the wheel.

Sunshine Week, which extends through Friday, began as Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in Florida as legislators worked on exemptions to public-records laws. It was extended for three consecutive Sundays, and roughly 300 exemptions were defeated, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

The public’s right to know is at the forefront of the organization’s mission. Awareness of the issues and safeguarding the rights are primary goals, but perhaps the best quality is reviewing the tools citizens have at their sides to learn more.