Shouldn’t Public Information Be Public?

Did you ever work with a salesman that gave you all the facts you needed – but only after you inked the deal? Sometimes timing is everything.
After recent experiences a few Knox Countians are asking some questions. Us too.
Is information useful if it isn’t timely?
Is it really “available” if it is hard to get and the cost is out of the reach of average citizens?
Recently, when a community group wanted solid information to intelligently participate in county processes, they report that the requested information not only took weeks to get, but it cost hundreds of dollars. We wonder who knows that far in advance all the right questions to ask. Whose citizen/volunteer crown is stuffed with hundreds of folding bills?
Another citizen group is still waiting for information requested at least weeks ago, this time through a commissioner well known for his fiscal vigilance and ability to drill down into a spread sheet. They wonder if the sloggery is just coincidence or foot dragging. We all recognize there are many excellent public servants in the county offices who work hard. We do not wish to disparage them. We just want information when we need it.
The county sheriff’s department was successfully sued last year when a request for information was impeded and/or denied.
It’s no coincidence and no insignificant matter that citizens in our nation and state have demanded and gotten freedom of information and open meetings laws. Governments do not run well in darkness.
Is it a coincidence that just days from the start of early voting,
in an administration not free of scandals, getting Knox County information is like pulling logs off the river bottom? A number of county incumbents are running for re-election. One wonders, was there a secret handshake sealing a vow that no bad news should cross the threshold of any County office before the election? (humor)
The county information atmosphere seems to have moved from snail’s pace to glacial after an engineer/economist presented an analysis in January showing that, rather than increasing the county’s revenue, as commissioners have claimed, newly built subdivisions are actually costing, not returning revenue.
The analyst’s figures showed that the fiscal impact on schools alone, was around $5,000 annually per dwelling unit, and when other infrastructure essentials, like roads and sewers were added in, the figure rose to the around $8,000 – and he pointed out that those costs were perpetual. There were literally red faces in the room that night.
Several citizens who attended the recent public events and asked county representatives fiscal questions report that their queries were uniformly answered with a strong an emphasis on “other” county revenue sources such as county service fees (document recording fees, permits, licenses) and bond revenues. The citizens we talked with felt it should be pointed out that bonds are debt, not income and that just as with personal credit card debt, the county pays interest. Bonds are also accompanied by handsome, some say eye-watering, fees that are associated with the issuance or restructuring of municipal debt.
It is Knox County election time. How can citizens hope to make educated decisions on how well their government is being run if they cannot readily access the facts?