Closed Government is Expensive Government

Small communities – by definition places with small populations – have fewer people from whom residents can choose officials, elected or appointed. The rational response for these communities would be to be as open as possible, to make best use of their full populations, and to encourage newcomers.

Pride, however, stands in the way of the rational, and so the desire of a few to dominate and to control civic life means that even in a small place one may find not openness but cliques making small towns even smaller.

One reads that a city like Milton, Wisconsin has a school board president complaining about the supposed burden of open government.

It is a burden these officials have, themselves, created and then inflicted on residents. Those who govern while imagining themselves as a class apart should expect in response that their neighbors will seek information through public records requests at law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39).

If this is too hard for Milton’s school board president to understand, or to manage without whining, he should resign.

It is a burden their legal counsel has inflicted on residents, all the while charging fees on the theory that requests are ‘complex,’ where complex also means profitable.

I’m not connected to those enmired in various disputes that have overtaken the Milton School District, but I do have a grasp of Atty. Shana Lewis’s quality of representation for that district. It’s enough to say that public officials would have been better off burning the money they spent on her counsel without having taken any of her advice.

Part of the problem is that these officials don’t see this, and another part is that the local press is servile in the face of public records denials. See A Local Press Responsible for Its Own Decline.

Milton is, in this, a bad example for other cities.

Closed government benefits only a few at the price of civic discord and higher costs.

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