Open Records

What changes, if any, would you make in Texas’ open records and open meetings laws?

I started my campaign writing about a concept known as the Fidelity Contract.  The idea is that I want to establish a Fidelity Contract between constituents and elected officials. This contract is an engagement contract, but is also highly dependent on trust.  For more on this, please visit my website.

 

So if your end game is to establish trust, we have to ask whether our current open records and open meeting laws are sufficient to accomplish this task.  This becomes a very difficult balancing act.  For example, one might think that more “transparency” is better, as the term itself is generally viewed as a positive word, thrown around in our political narratives.  But transparency also has an opposite effect, it causes the deviant politician to invent new ways to hide, whether using personal email accounts, private servers, texts, messaging services, calls, etc.  Likewise, it also has the unintended and ironic consequence of causing an increase in wedge politics, and a decrease in critical thought.  The reason for this is that politicians who know they are being recorded use those opportunities to humiliate opposition (causing more wedge politics), which serves as a hindrance rather than as a facilitator of constructive solutions-based dialogue.  Similarly, you also see politicians giving very canned responses that read as a suck up to constituents but do little to address constructive dialogue with critical thought. 

 

Overall, I think we need to re-evaluate how our open meetings and open records operate across the board.  Smaller boards and commissions should not be exempt from this process, as decisions in these bodies can be made by a handful of individuals.  In addition, I would like to see what opportunities there are to implement or expand the idea of some flexible confidentiality.  The idea is that there is a difference between observing and reporting.  I think it is important that we provide some opportunity to observe government behind the scenes, but reporting becomes a different matter.  In many cases, you may want a process to run its full course of negotiation, prior to it being reported on.  So what mechanism can we create in order to facilitate the observance of such proceedings without allowing the reporting of such proceedings?  In the private sector we have confidentiality agreements, that allow for information to be shared more freely within a smaller group, but understanding we do not want information getting out that may either harm a potential deal or harm the market.  Thus, there may be some lessons to learn from these agreements.

 

I do want to be careful, though, in even presenting these as options.  The public has to know our government is largely open and its proceedings should be open to the fullest extent.  What I want to present here is basically an understanding that transparency, at times, creates complications.  If transparency causes gridlock or a delay in governing, then we end up in this paradox between not having faith that government can get something done and facilitating a government that gets more done but isn’t trusted due to a lack of transparency.  So, one final note in defending the current level of transparency in government.  I know we have players in government and politics who are deviant, but let us keep in mind that government institutions are largely transparent and also largely get blamed for a lot of societal problems.  It should be noted that other institutions are far more opaque and yet they largely go unchecked for the societal issues they help to create.