The words of Georgia Bureau of Investigations Director Vernon Keenan were a breath of fresh air last week.
He talked about government transparency, open records and the accessibility of public officials.
Keenan sounded more like an open government activist than a government bureaucrat — and that is a good thing.
Perhaps 41 years of working in the public sector has served him well and brought him to a place where he has a keen sense that public servants are to serve the public.
In addition to his long record of public service and impressive law enforcement resume, Keenan is an Eagle Scout which doubtlessly contributes to his high standards.
In 2005, he received a media award as “A Hero for Open Government,” and his words to members of the Georgia Press Association demonstrated that he remains committed to transparency.
Local law enforcement agencies would do well to take a page out of Keenan’s book.
He described transparency as part of the GBI “culture” and said that he fundamentally believes a culture of transparency by the public sector is “how you keep government honest and doing what they are supposed to do.”
When fellow journalist Will Davis, publisher and editor of the Monroe County Reporter, asked Keenan questions related to the media working with local law enforcement agencies that are sometimes reluctant to share information, the director talked about the importance of developing what he called “meaningful dialogue.”
Of course, dialogue requires that both parties are willing to talk to each other.
In order for dialogue to be “meaningful,” both parties must be willing to talk about things that matter and in the case of public officials they must be willing to talk about things that matter to the public.
Keenan was forceful when he said he believes local law enforcement officials should not “play a game with the Open Records Act.”
That should apply to all local government officials, not just law enforcement agencies.
When those who hold office act as if they have something to hide, it creates nothing but suspicion and ill-will.
A culture of openness breeds confidence.
Besides, all the records held in public offices and all the meetings conducted by public officials belong to the public anyway.
Keenan said in his judgment local police should be “as open with public records as they can possibly be.”
We believe his most poignant words — that should strike a chord with any one who holds public office — were these:
“If government is allowed to maintain secrecy, we are going to have major problems.”
— Director Jim Zachary