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Boost transparency, restore public trust

Let light shine in on government

Published: Friday, June 27, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 8:47 a.m. CDT

A recent survey ranks Illinois among the most politically corrupt states in the nation. The Land of Lincoln was the fourth most corrupt state, falling in line behind Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.

With two of the past governors three governors convicted on felony charges, it’s easy to see why residents would expect so little from their state leaders. But that’s not the recipe for success.

One thing Illinois lawmakers could do to help improve their image, regain the trust of the public and, just perhaps, spark progress in many areas would be to rewrite the state’s open meetings and open records laws to create more transparency.

Deals done in secret – a staple of the Illinois General Assembly, regardless of which political party is in power – create nothing but suspicion.

Deals done in public allow voters – the same people government employees and officeholders pledge to serve – to have confidence in their leaders.

From local levels of government – such as police departments, school boards and municipal councils – Illinois lawmakers should strip away the ability to act in private or to retain information on someone’s whim. The voters pay for everything through their tax dollars and fees, and they should know how their money is being put to use.

Those in Illinois government will say nothing will get done if the existing laws are changed. What they mean is their special interests will be exposed if the public can see what they really are up to, or if people really have a chance to examine the records.

Indiana’s open meeting and open records laws provide an excellent example of how government can operate with a considerable amount of transparency. It’s not perfect, to be sure, but it allows Hoosiers to easily hold their elected officials and governmental employees accountable.

Besides, what do Illinois officials have to lose? The secrecy built into all layers of government already has eroded the public’s trust and support.

Shining the light of public scrutiny on how government operates should win back much of that support.

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