Public corruption usually happens behind closed doors.
That's why the Utah Transit Authority's recent decision to live-stream its board of trustees meetings is a positive development and hopefully a sign of greater transparency from the state agency charged with both the construction and operation of Utah's public transit system.
The history of UTA has been considerably more opaque and full of conflicts of interest and questionable decisions by officials. A state audit in late 2010 found, for example, that Terry Diehl, a member of UTA's board at the time, made an undisclosed amount of money after a land deal involving a rail stop in Draper. In 2013, UTA officials petitioned lawmakers for a substantial tax increase to fund their projects and then left the next day on an expensive trip to Switzerland. A subsequent legislative audit in 2014 raised additional ethical and financial red flags.
As part of a nonprosecution agreement, federal investigators agreed not to pursue charges in exchange for three years of federal monitoring of UTA, which was an unprecedented move but evidently necessary to ensure the agency doesn't once again go off the rails.
UTA is not unique. When the public is left out of the process and proper checks and balances are not in place or functioning appropriately, corruption tends to creep in. And apart from the good governance practices that come from sunshine and public scrutiny, citizens have a right to know what officials are up to with their tax dollars.
There was rightly public outcry when, earlier this year, secret meetings were used to select sites for homeless shelters in Salt Lake City. By contrast, despite a tight time frame imposed by the state, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams solicited substantial input and held numerous public meetings before announcing an additional Salt Lake County homeless shelter site.
And, to McAdams' credit, in recent weeks he's been traveling to cities across the county to hear from constituents and answer questions. His last meeting will be held Thursday, July 27, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Draper City Hall.
There are occasional instances where secrecy in government is appropriate — or even required. However, such instances are the exception and not the rule. Government, big and small, local and federal, has an obligation to remain open and transparent. Journalist Bob Woodward, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal of the Richard Nixon presidency, has spent his life warning against the danger of “secret government.” If government is to be of the people, by the people and for the people, it must always remain open to the people.