Open and accountable

Given politicians’ preoccupation with lists that rank states — and the constant yammering from Nevada officials about being at the bottom of lists for this and that — we’re happy to report the Silver State is tied for 10th in a key measurement of government accountability.

Only a handful of other states put more types of public documents online than Nevada does, according to a national study commissioned by a media coalition. The survey was released Sunday to mark the start of Sunshine Week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual campaign to build awareness of the importance of open government and access to public records.

How can you be sure your child’s school measures up to others around town? How can you find out whether hospitals, child care centers and nursing homes have passed inspections? How can you check a politician’s voting record and campaign contribution records?

Without access to those documents, you can’t. If the press can’t get speedy access to those records, they can’t report on it in a timely fashion. And if the press can’t find out whether governments are carrying out their functions effectively and properly, you might as well flush your tax dollars down the nearest toilet.

The study examined whether states post 20 kinds of records on the Internet. Five other states tied Nevada in 10th place by putting 14 types of reports online. Only Texas makes all 20 categories available free of charge.

Sunshine in government goes well beyond access to public documents. Citizens need to be able to participate in and monitor the functions of elected bodies. The state has a strong open meeting law to keep the doors open for both controversial and routine policy debates and decisions.

But Nevada can do better — and it won’t without agitation from the public and the press. That requires support for efforts to open more records to public scrutiny and prevent elected bodies from closing meetings. And governments must not be allowed to use the current economic climate as an excuse to scale back the digitalization of documents.

Indisputable legal precedents and clear state laws are never enough to discourage some government officials from trying to keep records secret — usually to protect themselves and their colleagues. Sunshine Week is a reminder that someone is always watching to make sure they can’t get away with it.

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