Deerin: SC secretary of state makes information difficult to access

08/03/2014 9:00 PM

08/01/2014 6:44 PM

Recently, a friend of mine requested information on the development of a database of boards and commissions being created by the secretary of state’s office. In response, the office charged her $114 and provided only scant information.

This is what many segments of our state government seem to be doing: operating in secrecy, making it difficult for citizens to access information and charging excessive fees.

The State has extensively documented this shameful absence of transparency and responsiveness, most recently in the excellent piece by John Monk and Clif LeBlanc (“What they don’t want you to know,” July 27).

In this age of instant information, you’d think that our elected officials would be more open and responsive to the people for whom they work — us taxpayers.

I am running for secretary of state in part because the incumbent has been a poster child for making it difficult to access public information.

Within the past week, the new database of boards and commissions was released. It cost a quarter-million dollars and includes only seven data points (including name, seat name and terms). How the secretary of state could spend so much money on this very simple database is inexplicable. Often citizens seek not only the names and terms of board members but also their demographic information. After all, by statute, the state is supposed to strive to assure that the membership of boards is representative of all citizens of this state. Yet none of that demographic information is available in this new $250,000 database.

If you go to the secretary of state’s website seeking information about a business, you’ll see that the record is linked to an incorporation document, forfeiture document, etc. But if you want to see the document itself, you must download a request form, print out the form and complete it, determine how much you’ll have to pay for the document (up to $10 a page), mail in your form and check, and then wait, wait, wait. To receive the requested document in the mail.

Yes, it’s 2014.

As Monk and LeBlanc pointed out: “People acting in the name of government are taking actions that keep the public in the dark.” And they note that the problem “seems to have accelerated.”

My experience in the business and the non-profit world has proven to me that trust is earned by straight talk and what the high-tech folks call “open sourcing.” Share all of the information you have — freely and openly. That just makes sense.

Ginny Deerin

Sullivans Island

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