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EDITORIAL: Ramping up the fight for transparency

Nevada public officials have a long and unfortunate history of ignoring laws and constitutional provisions that they find inconvenient. It’s a dangerous approach to governance that contributes mightily to the cynical state of political discourse.

One well-publicized example of this corrosive behavior would be legislators who moonlight as public employees despite a codicil in the state constitution that prohibits such dual service. For decades, they have been abetted by a judiciary that prefers to avert its eyes.

But the most common examples of this regrettable trend involve the disdain with which many elected officials and government employees — at both the state and local level — treat the concepts of transparency and accountability. Despite a relatively strong Nevada open records law, it too often remains a difficult task for watchdogs to pry public information out of those who are paid to work on behalf of the taxpayers.

And it’s getting worse.

The dangers of such intransigence cannot be overstated. Corruption flourishes in secrecy and darkness. A healthy and functional democratic republic demands that those entrusted with conducting the public’s business do so in the light of day, making it easier for citizens to bring their government to account. Openness is also vital to maintaining civic trust and building confidence in public institutions.

It is with this in mind that the Review-Journal has launched its “What Are They Hiding?” initiative, which is intended to improve public access to government information while ensuring that watchdogs, media organizations and activists can turn the spotlight on vital community issues.

“No matter how many times governments are sued over their illegal refusal to be transparent with the public, no matter how many times they lose in court and waste your tax dollars on attorney fees, requests for basic information are denied,” Review-Journal executive editor Glenn Cook explained. “Governments misrepresent court precedent. They declare exemptions to the law that have no basis in fact or reality. In extreme cases, they falsely claim information doesn’t exist or they destroy records. Accountability loses. The voting public loses. Democracy loses.”

In recent years, officials at the Clark County School District, Metropolitan Police Department, Clark County coroner’s office, Las Vegas Justice Court and UNLV have thumbed their noses at records requests in likely violation of state law. The city of Las Vegas even allowed a security tape to be destroyed rather than risk embarrassing two members of the City Council by releasing politically damaging footage. These are not rare occurrences. It is business as usual.

“We’re going to more aggressively and more frequently report when governments fail to comply with the Nevada Public Records Act,” Mr. Cook wrote to readers recently. “When we can’t get answers to questions you want answered, we’ll tell you why, we’ll tell you who’s responsible and we’ll shred their hollow excuses for keeping information from you.”

We hope readers appreciate the value in supporting a local watchdog intent on holding Nevada’s public officials and agencies accountable. And if you have examples of bureaucrats or bureaucracies resisting the disinfectant of sunlight, email us at whataretheyhiding@reviewjournal.com.

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