Needless to say, we were pleased earlier this week when Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Tiffany Grove ruled in favor of this newspaper in its public records lawsuit against the Mississippi State Department of Health.
We have believed all along that the public has a right to know the names of the long-term care facilities in Forrest County where 26 men and women have died from the COVID-19 virus and we applaud Chancellor Grove for making the right decision by standing up to the nursing home lobby, which – up until now – has been successful in keeping the names of those facilities secret.
We acknowledge that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the state are facing an unbelievable challenge while trying to protect our most vulnerable Mississippians, but releasing the names of those facilities where there are active COVID-19 outbreaks is a matter of public safety and that information should not be withheld any longer.
However inconvenient openness may seem to some people, it is the legislatively-decreed public policy of this state and therefore should be taken seriously by all public bodies – including the state health department.
Until recently, we were under the impression that most of our local elected officials here in the Pine Belt understood the importance of this type of transparency in government.
However, recent email communications obtained by this newspaper through the Mississippi Public Records Act tell a very different story.
The emails – sent from an elected official to the CEO of a large regional medical facility – detail specific plans to circumvent reporting by The PineBelt NEWS about local COVID-19 testing.
The idea that any administration is actively working to suppress information from the public and is directly working against local media outlets like ours is both troubling and extremely disappointing.
We live in a day and age when secrecy in government generates suspicion and mistrust on the part of our citizenry and this is a perfect example of why that happens.
A government which does not have the confidence of the people cannot govern effectively.
Unfortunately, we know of at least one local elected official that clearly needs a refresher course on the importance of transparency.
Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered editor and publisher of The PineBelt NEWS.