A curtain that was about to be drawn over open government was removed by Gov. Matt Bevins’ veto this week, and we are all the better for it.
A bill that would have allowed cities and counties to discontinue the practice of publishing their financial information in newspapers was surreptitiously added to the budget bill in the waning minutes of the 2016 General Assembly.
That language would have allowed cities and counties to publish their financial information on their own website or by putting a copy of the financial statement in the main branch of the local public library.
Or they could have published it in the newspaper.
Cities and counties would have been given the same hideout school districts were given 12 years ago. At that time, school districts were exempted from publishing not only their district's financial statement, but the school's "report card" as well.
The Governor on Wednesday vetoed both of those sections from House Bill 303, the state budget. That means cities, counties and other local governments as well as school districts will have to publish their financial statements in the newspaper. There is no option to only put them on the government agency's website or place a copy at the local public library.
The sun shines bright in Kentucky today.
“The Governor has focused on transparency at all levels of government and his action ensures transparency on how local governments spend taxpayer dollars,” said David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association.
Thompson is correct and the governor’s action assures that government will continue to place important public information in newspapers as has been the case for more than a century.
Simply put: no government agency should control how, when, where and what it is required to make available to the public.
While the internet can be a great tool for gathering information quickly, there are none of the safeguards associated with a printed document – especially one distributed widely and archived by a source outside of government.
The proof of that is some districts have simply not posted their information online or made the information so hard to find that it may as well be locked in the superintendent’s filing cabinet. Even when financial reports and other important documents are posted online, who is to say that information cannot be pulled down or altered in the future? And what of those who do not have access to online websites?
Experiences here in Mason County and throughout the Commonwealth suggest financial shenanigans are easy to hide when no one looks.
Newspaper publication may not prevent all misconduct, but it will help to deter and detect such activity.
Many people inside and outside of government talk about transparency. Gov. Bevin and his administration set the tone early and the message is clear:
The people of Kentucky have a right to know what goes on in government at every level. And information – especially that of a financial nature – should be available to everyone.