TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND OPENNESS
by Andy Weddington
Friday, 21 March 2014
"Transparency is not about restoring trust in institutions. Transparency is the politics of managing mistrust." Ivan Krastev
Transparency, accountability and openness were some of Barack Obama's core promises during his first campaign. Candidate Obama promised a new type of leadership, of administration. And President Obama has absolutely kept his promises.
For nowhere in the definitions of transparency, accountability and openness do the words truth and honesty and principle and morals and ethics appear. Nowhere.
Truth and honesty and principle and morals and ethics are expectations, if you will, assumptions, made (perhaps naively so) by truthful, honest, principled, morally-driven, and ethical people when thinking transparency, accountability and openness.
But today's comment is not about President Obama's truthfulness and honesty, or lack thereof in the minds of the truthful and honest. And it is not about the absence of integrity and credibility and capability and a new type of (corrupt) leadership and administration. Nor is today's comment about all the other nonsense (e.g., weak foreign policy; failed economics; failed healthcare reform; etc.) surrounding President Obama.
Anyway, for today - something on the local level. Something that happened earlier in the week.
A few days ago, amidst the morning newspaper and coffee, I called City Hall of one of our neighboring small cities. The receptionist answered, cheerfully so, on the third ring. I asked to be connected to the Mayor's office. She said she'd put me through to the administrative assistant and to please hold.
On the second or third ring "Jane" (not the name she used) answered - cordial but her tone not as friendly as the receptionist's.
I introduced myself (using full name) and told Jane I'd just finished reading the mayor's OpEd on transparency, accountability and openness. In fact, intrigued I sent the mayor an email.
Jane seemed distracted and came across as my call bothersome.
So I moved quickly to the point. I told Jane it was commendable the mayor wrote such an article and responsible to welcome public comment and participation by publishing an email address at the end - but there's a problem: My email (kind and included comment as to inviting President Obama and his Cabinet for an extended visit to witness transparency, accountability and openness in action) was returned as not deliverable (an invalid address).
Jane was silent.
So I spoke.
"Well, Jane, I'd like to get the mayor's email address so I can resend my note."
"Tell you what, Jane, I'll read the mayor's email address as it appears in the newspaper and you correct it for me."
She then read to me the mayor's email address. But we had to go through it several times to get it straight. Finally, I read back what I thought I heard, and had written down, and still needed to make a character correction. Then Jane offered, "I see the problem, they transposed the characters."
I did not ask who "they" was.
I thanked Jane and suggested it might be a good idea to have the newspaper print an email address correction as it might be rather embarrassing for the mayor (having written about transparency, accountability and openness and welcoming public engagement but the email address is wrong). My aim to be helpful not sarcastic.
Jane did not thank me for calling and bringing the error to their attention. She seemed a bit miffed while saying she'd inform the mayor. And she ended the call.
By her demeanor and tone, I suspect the fouled up email address was Jane's fault (the paper prints what they receive). After all, what does an administrative assistant do - proof admin, among other tasks.
I resent my email to the mayor.
It's been several days.
There's not been a correction in the newspaper.
I've not heard from Jane.
And I've not heard from the mayor.
I do not know the mayor nor the mayor's political party but that does not matter. The email address miscue may have been an innocent mistake. Probably. But a cynic would counter. However, not such a good first impression does it leave. One would think that with something as important as a mayor's OpEd the content - from first character to final period - would have been proofed and reproofed (particularly considering the topic).
Yes, good ol' government transparency, accountability and openness is not just promised at the federal level - it's common practice, politics as usual, from township to metropolis. It might even happen, somewhere. But if Ivan Krastev is correct, not likely - for politics trumps trust. Honest.
In reality, liars, cheats, scoundrels, and thieves (just like upstanding folks) holding and seeking public office can, and do, claim transparency, accountability and openness. It's how they get elected.
But their "truth" and "honesty" and "principles" and "morals" and "ethics" is not the majority's.
It's the citizenry's responsibility to police government.
Can't you see that, fellow Americans?
Call them (phone, mail, votes) on it!
Now, about that missing Malaysian 777 ... The U.S. government knows where it is (parked in a hanger in badlands); SEALs (with pilots) are planning an operation to recover the plane; President Obama is polishing his teleprompter remarks to announce how he alone solved the mystery, planned the op, and saved the world. It's in the books in less than five days.
We'll see. It makes more sense than aliens abducting and black holes swallowing it.