Lembo pushes true gov't transparency

When they first ran for governor and state comptroller in 2010, Dannel P. Malloy and Kevin Lembo vowed, if elected, to make state government more open and accessible. Mr. Lembo has kept his promise.

Gov. Malloy, however, faltered, starting early in his term by merging the state's formerly independent watchdog agencies, the Freedom of Information Commission, Office of State Ethics and the Elections Enforcement Commission, and placing them in the hands of a functionary who reports to the governor, ostensibly to save around $180,000 a year.

He signed a bill that severely restricts public access to crime scene information and helped to stack a commission that recommended even more severe restrictions that were thankfully not acted upon in the recent legislative session.

Now Gov. Malloy has appointed a new commission supposedly devoted to privacy and criminal justice issues with many of the same privacy and law enforcement figures, but purged of the six (of 17) right-to-know advocates. It is, of course, impossible to ignore the public's right to know in any consideration of privacy or justice issues, a point ignored by the governor in ordering that the "commission will not examine any provisions related to Connecticut's freedom of information laws." Those who want to keep records open should be concerned about further erosion of public access in the name of protecting victims and investigations.

Mr. Lembo's approach has been quite different. Last year, in an effort to help taxpayers better understand how their money is being spent, he launched "Open Connecticut," a website that pulls together budgets, revenue collections, spending and numerous other public records heretofore effectively buried by state agencies.

And now, he has expanded that website to allow viewers to see daily details on the money that is coming in and going out of the state's coffers. Dubbed Open Connecticut 2.0 - linked from the comptoller's webpage at www.osc.ct.gov - it shows visitors what the state is receiving from its taxes, such as income, sales, corporate and the rest, along with what agencies are spending, also on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Lembo has also assured us that the effort to simplify and expand information isn't going to end with Open Connecticut 2.0. He said additional enhancements and better information-sharing capabilities are being developed to provide real-time data on salaries, contracts and grants.

And, said Mr. Lembo, he doesn't intend to stop there. "This improvement is an important leap - but not an end point," he said. "I am committed to making Connecticut government as open and transparent as possible."

Granted Gov. Malloy did sign an executive order back in December requiring the creation of a searchable website that makes it easier to find out which businesses receive economic aid from the state and how much. That one you find at data.ct.gov. But the phrase kicking and screaming comes to mind.

We recall that during the 2013 legislative session the Malloy administration showed no enthusiasm for legislation, pushed by Mr. Lembo, to create such a website. DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith was particularly negative about the proposal, contending in her testimony that a "requirement to disclose the economic benefits derived from each project would create a competitive disadvantage for the state in its negotiations with existing companies within Connecticut and with any new companies that may consider locating here."

It appears the administration recognized that taxpayers would not be satisfied with the excuse that businesses were not willing to disclose the "economic benefits derived" from their tax breaks, not when Mr. Lembo was pushing to get things out in the open. So the governor issued his executive order.

Leaders in both parties like to embrace transparency in government, but when Mr. Lembo says it, we have reason to believe him.

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