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Openness the best policy

Published February 09. 2013 4:00AM

Connecticut's newest member of Congress, the Fifth District's Elizabeth Esty, found herself in a tragic spotlight just days after her election when her district was the scene of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Since then, she has had a more significant role than the usual freshman member of Congress in the debate over the most contentious issue of the year, gun control. She has handled it well. Even though she clearly supports gun control, she has shown a commendable willingness to listen to both sides and diligently gather information.

Recently, the congresswoman held two such meetings in Meriden and Waterbury with elected officials and various stakeholders like teachers, police, firefighters and other first responders, sportsmen, clergy and parents. But one key group was invited conditionally. Reporters were welcome, but only if they agreed not to report.

Editors at the Record-Journal in Meriden and the Republican American in Waterbury declined to assign reporters who would be required to check their notebooks at the door. They also refused to allow their reporters to attend post meeting briefings in which the Esty people would give their versions of the discussions.

We would do the same.

Jim Smith, the president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information called it "very disappointing that a newly elected member of Congress would want to keep the public out of what should be a public discussion."

Perhaps it's Ms. Esty's newness as an elected official that is to blame for her decision to ban the press from meetings the public needs to know about. Her spokesman, Jeb Fain, explained the meetings in Waterbury and Meriden were informal and did not constitute a hearing and Ms. Esty felt participants would be more comfortable if permitted to express their views privately. This is hard to believe after witnessing numerous hearings crowded with people not at all reluctant to express their views forcefully and publicly.

By closing her meetings, Ms. Esty has left herself open to conspiracy minded extremists on both sides suspecting that she's hiding something, even though she isn't.

We hope Congressman Esty will come to realize, if she doesn't already, that the best policy in airing public business, formally or informally, is openness. It's a lesson all public officials need to keep in mind.

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