from the editor

State Secrets

What do we have the right to know?

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Anyone else sick and tired of public servants treating their work like it’s an A-B conversation that the rest of us need to C our way out of?

As an admitted information junkie and, as anyone who’s met me will confirm, all-around nosy person, I’ll concede bias on this front, but I’m certainly not the only one frustrated by the lack of transparency in some of our government’s dealings, opaqueness that usually occurs only when they rightly or wrongly assume that people would take issue with what they’re doing. They fail to realize that, as James Garner ruefully sighed in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, often “you can see what they’re trying to hide by the way they try to hide it.”

Be it a cover-up, a non-answer, a delay or some other B.S. designed to conceal, it’s a tell. And it’s telling us we’re on to something and you are up to no good. Trust that this does nothing to assuage the curiosity of folks like me.

Obviously there are valid exceptions to our right to know what the likes of Marco Rubio and traffic safety officers are doing on our behalf, such as info that can legitimately risk national security or if disclosure would violate privacy rights. But if there is a legitimate exception, such as public interest or to refute a civil or criminal claim, then disclosure may be warranted.

Nevertheless, the people who work for us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy concealing what they do and why like it’s our parents’ sex lives and we’re children who can’t handle knowing what Mom and Dad (and maybe Aunt Suzy) like to do in the dark, ’cause, ewwww, gross. Thing is, we’re not 12-year-olds who might wish we could unsee the dirty deeds going down across the hall; we’re their boss. Like, for serious. They’re public servants. Who, then, do you suppose, is the master in this relationship? That’s right, we are. So, for the love of the Constitution, give up the deets, man. Pretty sure most of the media would rather cover a kitten parade than a dirty politician. Well, maybe not. But they should still spill it, otherwise they might be out on their ass come election time, amiright?

On a more serious note, when the people who represent us obfuscate the truth, it gives the impression that they’re doing something wrong. Frustratingly, often it turns out that they’re not doing anything wrong, they’re just doing something they don’t think everyone will like, and if they’d just been up front, there’d have been no breach of the public trust.

This sort of behavior implies that they simply don’t trust their public, as if they believe we’re incapable of understanding complex issues and seeing things from more than one perspective. That or they’re so thin-skinned that they can’t take a little criticism.

Hear this, public servants: If you’re not doing something wrong, then you don’t have anything to hide. We might not agree with what you’re doing with public assets, or public funds, or how you’re policing our streets, but you do have to tell us. You don’t have to like taking your lumps, but you do have to take them.

It’s literally your job.

On the subject of secrets, is there anything more legitimately personal and private than mental health?

Not according to the Florida legislature, which, in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that students’ mental health is state business. Students are now required to disclose “referrals to mental health services” upon initial school registration. Yup.

The requirement was tacked onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act and has the admittedly noble purpose of preventing school shootings. However, the reporting requirement is based on the dubious logic that students who have received any mental health treatment whatsoever are more likely to shoot their classmates.

Keeping our schools safe is obviously a moral imperative. But in order to do so, does the school system really need to know if a child has received grief counseling, or treatment for an eating disorder, or struggled with depression, or been the unwilling recipient of gay conversion therapy? Most people would probably agree that these are private matters best left between a child, their family and their mental health counselor. Disclosing such to a school system should be up to them, not the legislature.

Surely it makes sense that a school has the right to know if a child has been diagnosed with a violent mental health disorder that puts others at risk—but that’s not what this law says. It merely says “referrals to mental health services,” as in any referrals to mental health services. This includes kindergartners.

An equally excellent idea is for the legislature to apply this disclosure requirement to itself.

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