A Kentuckian, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, famously called sunlight the "best of disinfectants" — the surest way to keep both public and private institutions honest and clean.
Sunshine Week 2011 has brought Brandeis' native state an honor and a disgrace.
Kentucky was one of nine states that earned an A for openness of government spending in the second annual report of its kind by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Kentucky's electronic portal to government spending (www.OpenDoor.ky.gov) opened when Gov. Steve Beshear created a 14-member, bipartisan Transparency Task Force in 2008.
Like Kentucky, states have typically created or improved their online transparency with little upfront cost, according to the latest edition of "Following the Money 2011: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data."
Kentucky scored 96 out of a possible 100 points. The report can be found at www.uspirg.org.
The report also says: "The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence and promotes fiscal responsibility."
With such glowing notices in one area, it's perplexing that the Beshear administration has performed so miserably on another measure of government accountability and transparency — one that's a matter of life and death for the state's children.
Kentucky this week won a Black Hole Award (www.spj.org/blackhole.asp) from the Society of Professional Journalists for its "campaign of obfuscation aimed at preventing the public from learning the details about the death of a toddler under the (Cabinet for Health and Family Services') supervision."
The Herald-Leader and The (Louisville) Courier-Journal have won a state court ruling ordering the cabinet to open its records when children die of abuse or neglect on the cabinet's watch.
Instead of opting for openness and accountability, the cabinet is petitioning to move the dispute to federal court.
The cabinet insists that federal law precludes the release of such records, even though a federal directive says states are allowed to release the records. In the absence of a federal prohibition, the Kentucky Open Records Act requires openness.
In awarding the dubious distinction, SPJ said: "The cabinet's bias in favor of confidentiality seems to be driven more by the culture of the agency, 'which seeks to avoid public scrutiny,' than by the law, a judge said."
Also, "what is more egregious than a state government refusing to provide answers" about the death of a child who was supposed to be under its care?
Good question — one that both Beshear and this legislature are ducking.