EDITORIAL: Secrecy lobby blocking access to public information in California

The Fresno BeeMay 5, 2013 

The closed-door process that is being used to select the next Fresno State president is an example of a growing secrecy that is being used by public officials to make decisions without involving the citizens who pay the bills. Across California, a secrecy lobby of government leaders is working to block public access to decisions, documents and details of the inner workings of government.

It's time for citizens to reclaim their government from officials who believe they know what's best for the public. Unfortunately, too many people in charge don't believe in government transparency.

As officials of the California State University system have said of the Fresno State search process, the public is just going to have to trust them in selecting the next president of Fresno State. We believe the CSU administration and trustees should be willing to trust the public by revealing the finalists for the Fresno State presidency. They have no problem asking citizens for money through their taxes and philanthropy, and then don't want them involved in the decision-making.

On Friday, the trustees and a local advisory committee interviewed the Fresno State finalists in secret at a hotel near the Los Angeles airport. The two key officials who blocked access are CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White and CSU Trustee Pete Mehas of Fresno, who is chairing the presidential search panel. This process has been a shameful poke in the eye to all who believe in transparent government.

White and Mehas were joined in shutting out the public by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who participated in the secret interviews, according to her office. Swearengin refused to return reporter phone calls regarding the meeting. This is from a politician who never misses the opportunity to give her spin on an issue to a reporter. So now the mayor's office is joining with CSU to block citizen access to the presidential search. The secrecy lobby is growing as the city of Fresno and CSU are teaming up against the public.

While California has some of the strongest public access laws in the nation, the politicians have been working together to create and exploit loopholes. They file suit to block access, throw up barriers to getting public information or claim that certain information is exempt. The bottom line is they think that public information is their personal information to dispense as they wish. Such arrogance increases public cynicism toward our government.

Citizens must demand that public information not be blocked. They should vote to remove elected officials who conduct government activities in private, or refuse to release public documents that might shed light on their activities.

In March, we celebrated Sunshine Week, an annual reminder that the activities of government at every level must be conducted in public. The CSU chancellor and the Fresno State presidential search committee must have been on vacation during Sunshine Week.

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