At a time when seemingly all of society’s functions are in turmoil, it is easy to miss the warnings when the gatekeepers start locking the gates.
While President Donald Trump engages in an inspector general firing spree, transparency in government is being shattered at every level.
“Canceled” but not
As Free Press reported, on March 31, the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust (OKCEDT) met to take action on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) business, transfer of land to Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) for new convention center parking, and $5.5 million in aid for local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The problem: the meeting was listed as canceled.
Because of what city officials called a mistake by a city staffer, the meeting was marked “canceled” and no notice was given for a special meeting 48 hours in advance.
The public did not show up for the comment period or forum for questions possibly because no one outside of city government knew about it. Regardless of the meeting’s merits or accomplishments, it constituted a violation of the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act.
Transparency is essential to functioning democracies, and if action is not taken to follow and support the Open Meetings Act, the city will be part of a growing problem in our country, one that started long before COVID-19 but appears to be accelerating while the nation’s attention is directed toward staying healthy and safe.
OpinionFrom George Lang, our lead opinion columnist
Trump’s Press Sec
On April 7, White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Stephanie Grisham left her position to return to East Wing duties as Melania Trump’s chief of staff. In her nine months on the job, Grisham did not preside over a single press briefing. It was like saying you’re a bus driver without ever having driven a bus.
But Grisham’s role was not the same as predecessors like Sarah Sanders and Sean Spicer, who were there to incessantly lie and obfuscate on behalf of the president.
Grisham joined the White House three weeks before Trump’s call with Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked for dirt on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Grisham is what is known in public relations as a “gatekeeper,” someone who locks down information and lets nothing out, and that is what she did by not holding daily briefings at a time when the Trump Presidency faced existential threats.
Once Trump’s impeachment was done and the country moved on to its next crisis, Trump needed a “wartime consigliere” for the role of spokesperson in the run-up to November’s general election. He hired professional media conservative Kayleigh McEnany.
McEnany auditioned for the job on Feb. 25, when she told Trish Regan of Fox Business Channel that Trump “will always put America first, he will always protect American citizens, we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism come here and isn’t it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama.”
That is probably all Trump needed to hear from her.
But a Trump press secretary does not change policy — McEnany will do Trump’s bidding and project the image he desires during campaign season. Trump’s behind-the-scenes truth suppression activity is far more important.
It is now open season on inspectors general. Over the course of two business days, Trump fired intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson for informing Congress about the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s call with Zelensky, and then fired acting Pentagon inspector general Glenn Fine, who would have overseen expenditures from the recently passed $2 trillion COVID-19 relief act.
Fine’s reputation as a strong and professional investigator would normally be an asset. Not so with Trump.
The president also opened up with both barrels on Twitter against Health and Human Services inspector general Christi Grimm, who issued a report saying there were “severe” testing equipment shortages, but has not yet fired Grimm.
The OKCEDT meeting might seem like small potatoes compared to Trump’s assault on federal government watchdogs. But at a time when transparency is being threatened at the highest levels of government, local functions of government should work to distinguish themselves as being responsible and responsive stewards of the public good.
This is not a time for confusion on this subject. Never mind the fact that OKCEDT opened itself to lawsuits by anyone who was not served by actions taken during the March 31 meeting. The community must not be left to feel as though city officials are engaging in governmental sleight-of-hand while everyone is hyper-focused on COVID-19.
In the early 2000s, federal government response to the 9/11 attacks consisted of an extreme overreach in curtailing the privacy of citizens, the federal concept of “total information awareness,” and we live with the aftereffects of that overreach to this day. If the reaction to COVID-19 is to ensure the privacy of government actions and keep citizens uninformed or confused, then democracy is in crisis at all levels.
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