The transparency cliché

Calling for more transparency in government is becoming a cliché.

Transparency has been a buzzword in local campaigns this fall, but it’s at risk of losing its meaning.

Too often, it seems, when candidates on the outside who are challenging incumbents claim that there needs to be more openness and transparency, it amounts to little more than an implied accusation that those in office are hiding something. Raise the suspicion in voters’ minds that their elected officials (the accusers’ political opponents) are covering up or keeping them in the dark — whether or not that’s actually the case — and the challengers stand to gain.

Make no mistake, transparency is essential, at all levels and in all ways of governing. It was heartening that the state Supreme Court upheld Washington’s open records law in ordering public disclosure of signatures on petitions that placed Referendum 71 on the statewide ballot in 2009.

But especially at the local level, lack-of-transparency accusations should not be the default response whenever an individual or group just disagrees with a county commission or city council’s decision or policy.

Nor is it acceptable to make such accusations after a governing body holds public hearings on an issue before making a decision, and the public is notably missing at those hearings.

Just because hardly anyone shows up doesn’t mean there’s no transparency, and you don’t hear folks running for office decrying the scarcity of concerned citizens at such meetings.

It’s easier for a campaigner to rile folks up talking about a troublesome-sounding lack of transparency than it is to persuade people to show up at meetings and get informed about the issues.

Democracy isn’t delivered to your door; it’s a participatory process — do be sure to vote — that requires an informed electorate if it’s going to work the way it’s intended to.

Simply complaining that there’s a lack of transparency because elected officials make decisions that one doesn’t like — or because one seeks political advantage — is not helpful nor honest participation.

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