In Tuesday’s primary balloting, former state Senator Jim Condos of Montpelier should get the nod for Secretary of State on the Democratic side over Charles Merriman of Middlesex.
Both Democrats have been forceful in speaking about the need for open government and open public records, including the need for stronger laws to protect those rights, and the need to continue to upgrade the Secretary of State’s office and its Website to assist residents, local officials and businesses.
Mr. Merriman is an attorney, as is the incumbent, Deborah Markowitz, who is leaving to seek the governorship. But we believe Mr. Condos has a wider range of experience that would best serve in the position. He also served for many years as a South Burlington city councilor and has held positions in large companies and in a family business.
In the Senate for eight years, Mr. Condos served as chairman of the Government Operations and Education committees and oversaw some of the functions of the Secretary of State’s office. In addition, he seems personable yet determined to improve the office and be an advocate for open government.
On the Republican side, Chris Roy, of Williston, seems the most likely to work to promote open government and access to public records. He has been a member of the Vermont Environmental Board and served on the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and he says he will push for improvements to the technology used by the Secretary of State’s office and to make public records more accessible to citizens.
Jason Gibbs, who has served as spokesman for outgoing Gov. Jim Douglas and currently is commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation, has not stressed as forcefully as the other candidates the need for preserving and promoting open government in Vermont. Instead, he has focused on such issues as job creation and budget cutting, which should be the province of the governor and lawmakers.
This could be an indication that Mr. Gibbs sees the post as more of a stepping stone to higher state office.
Most importantly, Mr. Gibbs, served in an administration that greatly expanded the use of highly paid press spokespersons at all levels of state government. The mindset of someone whose job once was to filter and control access to the governor and to news about his administration is not conducive to the role of Secretary of State.
The expansion of the use of administration and departmental press spokespersons, which often hinders government employees from freely speaking directly to the media, and is an unnecessary expense for the state, is a troubling sign for advocates of open government. We hope that unfortunate trend can be reversed.