My turn: Government transparency should become normality

Government transparency should become normality

Pete Campos, a Democratic state senator from Las Vegas and president of Luna Community College, writes about the need for more transparency in government:

The public’s growing frustration with government is driven in large part by policy disagreements and evaporating revenue for important needs.

The public has become distrustful of its government, believing that too much of the information it does receive is “spin” and not enough of it is simply data that will allow citizens to draw their own conclusions. As with most perceptions, some of it is unfounded — the vast majority of public officials take seriously their duty to be transparent — but those of us who are public servants must also admit that much of this perception is based in reality.

Each day, somewhere in New Mexico, citizens, community activists or news reporters are told they cannot have the information they are seeking for a variety of reasons.

Whether the reason is legitimate or not, the public is left with the perception that its government is not being as open as it could or should be.

It is not that the state has not adopted a policy of transparency. The Open Meetings Act, Inspection of Public Records Act and the Sunshine Portal Transparency Act are designed to help make sure that New Mexicans can get as much information as possible about their government.

But we know the reality is different. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government last year received more than 125 complaints to its hotline about possible violations of the Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act.

We can and must do better. More information must be made available on government agencies’ websites and in a way that is easily navigated and understood. More meetings should be webcast so people can follow the work of elected officials without having to drive to the capitol, county building or city hall. Public officials and employees must embrace the idea that providing the public with public records is an important and integral part of their jobs and not an extra duty to be fulfilled only when it is convenient.

As we begin to lower the level of public frustration with government, we will find that we will begin to accomplish more for all the people of New Mexico.