Local and state governments contracting out some public services that private firms can do more economically is a healthy trend of the 1990s. Taxpayers often reap impressive savings when public hospitals, prisons and other programs are turned over to private firms to manage.
But the downside to privatization is the refusal by many companies to open their records to scrutiny, even though they're making money doing the public's business.
That's unacceptable. Part of the responsibility of taking on a government task is to respect the right of the people to know how their money is being spent and on what. Without that information, the public can't accurately evaluate the success of the program.
This is why Gov. Roy Barnes' proposed legislation to strengthen Georgia's Open Records law deserves strong public support. His plan would compel private firms to open records pertinent to the work they do for the government.
Barnes became aware of the problem as an attorney for a Marietta newspaper that was constantly scrapping with taxpayer-funded privately run hospitals that refused to provide documents. His proposal, in effect, bans the privatization of non-patient records that the public should have access to.
Another element of his plan, which also deserves strong lawmakers' support, would make available records stored on computer and fine public officials for refusing to turn over any public documents that Georgians request. These reforms should boost confidence in privatization and accelerate its trend.