One of the hitches whenever a business person is appointed to a political position is that they often don’t understand what it means to be a public servant. By that I mean that they understand the servant part of the job, and many of them do that quite well. But the public part? Well, they feel restricted by public records laws. They are used to the private sector, in which transparency of process is often a detriment to success.
Case in point is the Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Woz.
According to the News & Observer, she was asked why her office has refused to turn over records. “I think the word transparency can get pretty dangerous. Because what does transparency mean? If transparency means that we’re in a planning process and you’re asking us, ‘Tell us all the things you’re planning,’ well, my goodness, allow us to work, and then we’ll give you everything that you want. But allow us the intellectual capacity just to do our job.”
She goes on to say that she is a great believer in transparency, which normally accompanies an explanation of why you aren’t going to be transparent.
Here is the full video.
Of course, state law differs with the secretary’s reading. As pointed out by N.C. Policy Watch: “The state’s public records law, however, makes government documents public ‘regardless of physical forms and characteristics’ and open to inspection ‘as promptly as possible’ to whoever asks to see them.”
To state the obvious, the purpose behind public records laws is to make the people’s business open — transparent, if you will — to the people. When public officials take action behind closed doors and want to keep their working papers under wraps, that’s fertile ground for shenanigans. Just today, the athletic director of Rutgers resigned/was fired for his handling of the men’s basketball coach’s behavior. Imagine if he had dealt with that openly rather than secretly. He’d still have his job.
Why, just down the street the Legislature is in the process of demanding openness and accountability from the state’s voters by requiring that they have a photo ID to vote. Doesn’t seem unreasonable for the state’s citizens to require the same openness from its employees.
Does openness hinder efficiency? Sometimes. Does it make a process more accountable, more publically acceptable and, often, better? Most of the time. Is it the law? Yes.
By the way, Woz, who is from Greensboro, is also the state official who has declined to explain what happened with the Dianna Lightfoot appointment.