Is secrecy the new transparency?
That's the Cantrell transition team's convoluted explanation for why it's asking volunteers to take the apparently unprecedented step of signing confidentiality agreements. The documents, spokeswoman Karen Carvin Shachat explained, are aimed at promoting "honest, open, frank discussions." Discussions that mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell's constituents don't have a right to know about, it seems.
The 15 members of the transition board have already signed agreements barring them from ever speaking about their work developing policies for the incoming administration. The 160 members of various issue-oriented committees will be asked to stay silent until Cantrell takes office come May.
The aim, Shachat said, is to allow employees and contractors to share ideas without fear of repercussions. But the likely result is either a dearth of public understanding about the mayor's plans or rampant rumors, rather than reliable information.
It's unclear what penalties, if any, are attached to violating the documents' terms, since the transition team didn't provide exact wording. But the very existence of these agreements is enough to raise serious questions about the incoming mayor's attitude toward openness in government.
That's ironic, given that Cantrell ran on a promise that her administration wouldn't be top-down. Because nothing says bottom-up like a chilling missive from on high.