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Keep government open, including volunteers

Nevada Appeal editorial board

A Reno deputy city attorney simply has it wrong when he says a new state law requires municipalities to keep secret the phone numbers, e-mail addresses and mailing addresses of people who have applied for positions on boards and commissions there.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported a week ago that the city attorney had blacked out home phone numbers, addresses and e-mail when the newspaper requested the information.

He cited a new law, which is indeed intended to protect the privacy of people who submit such information to local governments. But the protection is from telemarketers and mass e-mailers, not from the public these governments serve.

Although the Legislature is accused from time to time of writing vague laws, this one is crystal clear. Assembly Bill 188 says local governments may compile a database of such information and the database is not to be released.

However, it goes on to say: “The individual electronic mail address or telephone number of a person is not confidential and may be disclosed individually in accordance with applicable law ….”

Why the distinction? Without it, a telemarketing company could acquire the database and do whatever it wants.

Governments must function transparently because that’s the only way residents and taxpayers will maintain trust in the officials who serve them. In this age of identity theft particularly, governments shouldn’t ask for information that people need to keep secret.

Beyond that, people who want to serve in public offices – including volunteers on boards and commissions – carry a responsibility to be open and accountable to residents.

Carson City, for example, has just one elected Board of Supervisors. But it has dozens of volunteer boards, such as Planning and Parks and Recreation commissions, making important decisions every month.

We’re confident the people who serve on those boards are aware of their public roles. It seems the Reno deputy city attorney is the one who needs a reminder.