6:33 PM EST, February 1, 2013
Newtown is in U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty's 5th Congressional District, so it's only natural that the congresswoman is deeply involved in gun-violence prevention discussions at many levels.
She is, among other things, vice chairman of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Last week, she scheduled "roundtable discussions" across the district with mayors, school officials, police, first responders and others she called "stakeholders."
The discussions were a great idea. Unfortunately, the ground rules weren't. Although the news media were invited, everything said at the roundtables was off the record. Reporters were also given the opportunity to attend post-roundtable press availabilities. But those, by their very nature, would be sanitized.
There was no compelling reason for the meetings to be off the record.
Ms. Esty wanted to create an atmosphere in which people felt comfortable exchanging frank and candid views, her office said. But that assumes that public officials, from mayors to police officers, wouldn't say what's on their minds if a reporter was present. Most will, and the public's the better for it. Otherwise, such meetings could become policy-making behind closed doors.
Jim Smith, president of the Connecticut Council of Freedom of Information, called the congresswoman's decision "disappointing" and noted that in hearings at the state Capitol, "every word was on the record for all Connecticut residents to see and hear the discussion and participate if they so chose. Leaving the people guessing what is being said is absolutely the wrong way to go."
Mr. Smith's right. Government works best when it's transparent.
Ms. Esty, who has done so much right, missed an opportunity to expand the discussion on gun-violence prevention when she made her roundtable discussions with stakeholders off the record.
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