Editorial: State lacks commitment to transparency

It is clear that Virginia’s state legislature has no real commitment to transparency when the vice-chairman of the Freedom of Information Act Council puts forth a bill to weaken the state’s already woeful open-government standards.

State Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Fredericksburg) has proposed a bill that would mean the salaries of state employees making less than $30,320 per year would not be made public. The bill also says that the names of any public officer, appointee or employee could be excluded from any database of public salaries.

Currently, only employees who make less than $10,000 per year do not have to have their names and salaries in the public record.

This is a clear step backward from a state that is already far behind others in the level of transparency in state government. It is also a tone-deaf move from a legislature that just watched a sitting governor and his wife convicted of federal crimes in an ethics scandal.

Virginians need more transparency, not less, from our government officials. As taxpayers, we pay these individuals to do their jobs. We should be able to find out who they are and how much we are paying them.

Sure, it is different than the private sector where salaries are often a closely-guarded secret. But we have a legal obligation to pay taxes to the state and that means we also have a right to see how the money is spent. Payroll is the largest expense of any government budget. Hiding it does everyone a disservice.
Stuart served as chairman of the state’s Freedom of Information Act Council until mid- 2015. With leadership like his, it is no surprise that Virginia’s commitment to open government does not compare well to other states.

The editorial represents the opinion of the Staunton News Leader’s editorial board, Roger Watson, president and publisher; David Fritz, executive editor; and Deona Landes Houff, community conversations editor.