News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2005


Officials owe the public loyalty and openness

We hope area officials are taking lessons from the Montgomery County school board.

Lessons on what not to do.

The Montgomery County school board released the names of employees on administrative leave last week, but only after the Montgomery Advertiser sued it under the state's public records law.

So have officials in that county finally realized that the public is entitled to such records? Hardly. Three days after turning over the administrative leave documents, the superintendent refused to release an employee's personnel report. The Advertiser amended its lawsuit to include the newly withheld documents.

Local governments like to paint such disputes as battles between officials and corporate media. While media organizations are usually the entities that have to pay for the lawyers, their involvement is solely as an agent of the public. The media steps forward when officials renege on their obligation of transparency. Secrecy thwarts accountability, and those who work for the public must be accountable to the public.

Imagine you own a store and you hire someone to manage it. Every time you stop by to see how the manager is doing, she locks the door and pulls down the blinds. Would the manager's actions make you suspicious? Of course. Would you allow her to remain in her position? Of course not. If she does not let you see the books, you would have no idea whether or not she is acting against your interests, but her actions would be strong evidence that she is up to no good. You would kick that manager out and find one who is loyal.

The superintendent of Montgomery County schools is pulling the blinds down every time her employer — the public — comes by.

If she feels the need to hide her actions from her employer, it is time she found an employer gullible enough to let her do so.

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