We were disappointed to read comments from Gov. Bill Haslam recently in which he tried to defend his efforts to keep vital information secret from state residents. Haslam told The Associated Press that while he fundamentally believes state government should be transparent in its dealings, there are times when secrecy is a good thing.
“Ultimately, it’s a balancing act between what’s doing best for the state and protecting the public’s right to know,” Haslam said. “And that’s not easy.”
In fact it would be easy if Haslam simply practiced transparency at all times. True open government means you never have to wrestle over when something should be a secret and when it should be made public. That’s because open records should be just that — open to any Tennessean who desires to see them.
Haslam thinks he should be able to pick and choose which records should be open and which should be kept secret. We don’t think the governor should have such power. Thankfully, Haslam lost a bid this year to close records about companies — including the identities of their owners — that receive cash grants from the state.
He did sign into law, however, measures to keep secret the names of all but the three finalists for leadership positions at state universities, and to bar parents from seeing the evaluation scores of teachers. Closing these records sets a very bad precedent and we have no doubt other groups and individuals will be asking the state General Assembly for similar treatment next year.
When it comes to government transparency, Haslam should be setting a better example to other officeholders in this state.