Government transparency

Regarding “Md. Lawmakers can improve on 50-year legacy of transparency,” the Maryland General Assembly designed the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board and the Public Access Ombudsman to fail as vehicles for empowering average Marylanders (The Capital, Feb. 17). They were designed for PR purposes, not effectiveness.

Giving the Maryland Association of Counties control over a seat on the Compliance Board was like hiring a fox to guard a chicken coop. There has been no more secretive and effective enemy of genuine government transparency in Maryland than MACo.

As for the ombudsman, she was given no power to gather information or provide legal advice; her only power is to shift voluntarily provided pieces of paper around and, in the process, waste the time of the unsophisticated, as in “justice delayed is justice denied.”

Nevertheless, the leaders of these two organizations have demonstrated genuine idealism and have published a report that recommends good reforms. Unfortunately, if the past is any guide, the Assembly’s legislation implementing them will most likely make Maryland’s problem of fake open government worse rather than better.

For example, expanding the scope of an agency designed to fail in fostering government transparency isn’t a promising reform strategy. The most important reform would be to kick the foxes out of the chicken coop and create a truly independent board. Giving the board and ombudsman more teeth would also be a positive, but not if those teeth will only be used on the weak when the goal should be to hold the powerful accountable.

The best system of open government would be to publish public documents online so that a PIA request need never be filed. This would also require Maryland to redesign its information systems from the ground up. Alas, pigs will fly before the assembly and MACo allow that to happen.

Source: Snider, J.H., Government TransparencyCapital, March 2, 2020.