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OPINION:  Open government is a good show

There are some phrases that, like poetry, can plant themselves memorably in the mind. Here are two of them:

Information is the oxygen of democracy.

There is nothing that gets rid of bad conduct like sunshine.

Both phrases refer to the need for transparency, particularly in open government, and I like the use of “oxygen” in one and “sunshine” in the other.

A new governor is set to take office. During an interview with the Record-Journal’s editorial board before the election, Democrat Ned Lamont expressed his support for open government. “I’ll be a champion for transparency,” he said.

The role of journalism, of course, is to be a champion for transparency, so here’s hoping the two champions will get along.

The “oxygen” phrase was used in a recent R-J editorial. In this case it was a reference to Connecticut’s television and public affairs network, which has returned just in time to cover Lamont and the new General Assembly. Back in time, you could also say, to help gauge how Lamont fares in his open government support.

I’m not sure I know anyone who is a C-SPAN junkie, and while you can entertain hope that there may be someone out there who is it’s also not really the point. The point is that the information be there when you need it, It’s not like gauging whether there’s enough fan support to continue “Modern Family,” for example.

The Connecticut network, called CT-N, does at the state level what C-SPAN does in Washington, D.C. Both are easy to take for granted when you’re channel surfing, but we’ve learned that the operation of CT-N was not something to take for granted. As the Associated Press reported recently, a dispute between the nonprofit Connecticut Public Affairs Network and legislative leaders put into doubt how things were going to move forward, with the network ending its agreement to run CT-N because of budget cuts and “encroachments on our editorial independence.”

Stagnation ensued. The network was run temporarily by the Office of Legislative Management, initially airing reruns. 

Not a good situation. So the new contract is welcome.The three-year $1.8 million deal, which went into place Nov. 1, is about $1 million cheaper than the old contract, which is worthwhile for a state that is facing a perennial need to find savings.

But it also seems like a lot of rough and tumble just to get back to square one. Adam Joseph, the Senate Democrat spokesman, told the AP the Connecticut Public Affairs Network had been chosen among several making proposals because it had the most “cost-effective” bid and experience running CT-N. This strikes me as similar to being laid off and told you can apply for your old job at lower pay. But, whatever.

What’s important is sunshine and oxygen. William Bevacqua, Connecticut Public Affairs Network president, said the focus will return to covering government’s legislative, executive and judicial branches, including gavel-to-gavel coverage of legislative sessions. Under consideration is providing educational programming about how state government works.

Ho-hum, you might say. It’s not “America’s Got Talent” or “Sunday Night Football,” but the next time they’re talking about your taxes you might find it interesting. Open government is a good show.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.




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