Transparency Becomes Issue In Secretary Of State Race

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(Host) The latest buzz word in the political lexicon is transparency. It’s defined as the commitment to open and accountable government.

And, as VPR’s John Dillon reports, transparency is becoming an issue in the race for secretary of state.

(Dillon) Both the Republican and Democratic candidates say they’re opposed to government secrecy.

They’ve elevated the issue of transparency in the race. And Democrat Jim Condos and Republican candidate Jason Gibbs are criticizing each other’s records on open government. Condos says Gibbs was a senior advisor to Governor Jim Douglas when the administration denied access to public documents.

(Condos) "The Douglas team supported and expanded the principle of deliberative process, keeping meetings and documents secret and behind closed doors."

(Dillon) Condos says the Douglas administration also blocked the release of documents related to pollution problems in the Mississquoi River. And he says the administration prevented state employees from testifying independently to the Legislature.

(Condos) "We as legislators were not allowed to bring in state employees to talk to us, to testify before committees, because the Douglas administration wanted to keep that to one message right out of the governor’s office."

(Dillon) Jason Gibbs was the governor’s press secretary and then served as commissioner of Forest and Parks. He says he didn’t make the final call for the administration on public records or testimony by state employees. Gibbs said he did give the governor and his agencies advice on these issues, but he says that advice has to remain confidential.

(Gibbs) "Now I may not have liked the outcome. I may have preferred that we provide everything that the opposition asked for in these cases. But the reality is that ultimately the decisions were being made under current law. There was absolutely nothing illegal about the decisions that were being made."

(Dillon) And Gibbs fired back that Condos’ rhetoric on transparency is not matched by his record in the Legislature. Gibbs says Condos was chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee when the lawmakers exempted themselves from parts of the public records law.

(Gibbs) "As a senator for eight years, he had multiple opportunities to address these issues and didn’t and in fact took what I think was the most dramatic extension of secrecy in the legislative branch that the state has ever seen."

(Dillon) Condos said the decision to keep the records secret was made by other legislative leaders. He said the bill did not go through his committee.

Both Condos and Gibbs say they want to keep the focus on their own proposals for transparency.

And their proposals are somewhat similar. For example, they each plan to make more information available online. And both want to reduce the number of exemptions to the public records law.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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