Of Wolves, Lambs and the FOI (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Jun. 23, 2014 12:00 am  

A motley crew united last week to urge Arkansas lawmakers to strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

State Rep. Jim Nickels, liberal columnist Max Brantley, conservative think-tanker Dan Greenberg and UALR Law School Professor Robert Steinbuch testified before the House and Senate committees on state agencies and governmental affairs about ways to make government more transparent. Each had his particular recommendations about opening up government records to public oversight, but they were in consensus on the main point: The government (employees) owes taxpayers (employers) an accounting of how their money is spent.

Nickels said the increasing privatization of services previously provided by the government prompted his concerns about the sufficiency of the current FOI law.

“State and local governments across America are handing over control of critical public services and assets to corporations that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper, but too often outsourcing not only fails to keep this promise, it undermines transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition — the underpinnings of democracy itself,” he said.

We’re particularly in favor of Steinbuch’s recommendation that the FOI Act require an agency denying a request to cite the specific exemption provided by the law. “We often see agencies simply denying requests, and we’re at a loss to understand how they can deny those requests,” he told legislators. We, also, have been at such a loss.

We don’t think this rare spirit of accord among such disparate personalities is a sign of the End Times. We think it instead signals a strong and proper interest in respecting the public’s right to know.



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