Ken Plum: Government in the sunshine

A dark cloud passed in front of Virginia’s sunshine law when it was discovered that the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform had been meeting in small groups in secret with the Democratic members of the Commission left out of all the meetings.  The flimsy excuse offered by the Governor’s staff that the small groups were really work groups of the Governor and the open-meeting rules did not apply did not pass the laughter test and was abandoned in a couple of days.  The most recent response from the Governor’s office is that the meeting dates and locations will be publicized.  There was no indication of whether the Democrats on the Commission are going to be included or whether periods for public comment will be scheduled.

The precedent last year of the Commission taking a reform proposal written by the distillery interests to sell the ABC stores and endorsing it without adequate independent assessment or public comment resulted in what I believe has to be the most embarrassing situation I have ever seen for a Virginia governor.  No one in his own political party that controls the House of Delegates would introduce his bill.  A Democrat introduced it and the Republicans refused to even consider it.  Special interests working behind the scene created this situation that could have been avoided.

Every governor has a reform commission. It is an expected routine of governance.  This commission is much more important than the ones in the past because reducing the size of government is one way to balance the budget.  For appointed commission members who are all fine individuals with for the most part limited experience in government to make decisions behind closed doors or at the last minute is not in the best interest of good government.  To leave out the individuals on the Commission with the most experience because they are Democrats is Washington-style operating that we cannot allow to invade Richmond

The importance of the current effort is emphasized when terms such as right-sizing and core-services are applied.  Clearly there will be an effort to redefine the role of government.  Such a debate would be worthwhile to honestly identify the shrinking role of state government with responsibilities being shifted to local government.  Everyone, however, needs to know the agenda and the consequences.  An open, bipartisan process will permit independent evaluations of proposed changes.

I am proud of the steps that have been taken in Richmond in the years I have been there to open government to public scrutiny, full accountability and disclosure, and public participation.  It was not that way under the Democrats who controlled all branches of government when I was first elected.  We cannot go back to those days for any reason and certainly not in the guise of government reform.  Government must be conducted in the sunshine regardless of how gloomy it might be outside or in the halls of government.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.


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