Transparency denied in Airport Authority dispute

Transparency denied in Airport Authority dispute

“Transparency is key to reciprocal accountability,” it once was written, “which we use to be both free and smart.

“It is the miracle tool that enables us to question … .”

Transparency and accountability, so critical to sound public policy, were denied last week in an Allegheny County courtroom when that miracle tool was locked away in a government closet.

Wednesday last, in the continuation of a Common Pleas Court hearing in which Fraport, the operator of the “airmall” at Pittsburgh International Airport, seeks to enjoin the Allegheny County Airport Authority from booting it from the premises, Judge Christine Ward “twice closed the courtroom to the public to take testimony,” the Post-Gazette reported.

The newspaper properly objected to the closure. The judge, who said airport security issues and a human resources matter were the reasons the public was shut out from the public’s business, rejected the newspaper’s solid point of order.

Judge Ward told the P-G it could petition the court to have the record unsealed.

This is the same judge who, before a prior hearing and to her credit, rejected the Airport Authority’s effort to keep the entire matter – all in-court testimony and the official transcript of it – sealed.

We praised Ward for her actions then. We pan her today for this selective reversal.

For this is a public agency expending public dollars in the operation of a public accommodation now in a public court attempting to defend its termination of a public contract.

What should not be public about that? Nothing.

Locking the media, and, thus, the public, out of this process – or any process – is anathema to public discourse and the execution of public policy.

Seizing the “miracle tool that enables us to question” serves no valid purpose other than to hide official government actions.

It breeds suspicion, it unnecessarily forces those who have every right to know to incur legal expenses to uncover what should be the free and unencumbered release of public information.

It also once was written that “transparency increases the cost of hiding the truth.” But Judge Ward’s actions turn that truth on its head, forcing the public to pay a premium to force government transparency.

And that’s simply not acceptable from the people’s court.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).