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It's time for sheriff's office transparency

As Hubbard County embarks on the search for its next top cop, it has already taken its first misstep, keeping applications and resumes of potential candidates from public view.

County commissioners and the county coordinator went through mind-boggling contortions at the last board meeting to ensure candidate applications wouldn't go into the informational packets county commissioners regularly receive.

That makes the records public, and fair game for the media.

The county's hide-and-seek solution was not a good approach to take.

For one, it makes commissioners themselves ask to see the applications at the county coordinator's office. If board members are too busy between now and Wednesday to view the applications, they could arrive unprepared to ask pertinent questions of the candidates during the April 15 interviews.

But it also deprives taxpayers of the opportunity to see who their next sheriff could be.

Since the law enforcement expenditures make up one-third of the county budget, shouldn't taxpayers have the right to know the potential qualifications of the person who will oversee those funds?

Candidates, to be sure, will each get a 20-minute public interview, but those are predicated on the notion that commissioners will have viewed their qualifications on paper beforehand. If a candidate is nervous, he (and the next sheriff will be a man since there are no female deputies) might neglect to mention something in his past, or his educational background during an oral interview.

That could leave the public wondering what was omitted, or leave the candidate looking unqualified when he otherwise might be.

The Minnesota Government Practices Act specifies that all information is presumed public unless otherwise specified.

It requires governmental agencies to - at a minimum - perform an analysis before issuing a blanket refusal to turn over such information.

Hubbard County has not even gone that far, That's not in keeping with the spirit or intent of the law.

The Act specifies that Social Security numbers are private data. Fine. A magic marker will take care of any applications that contain such information.

But beyond that, it's hard to see what basis the county is using to withhold the applications.

And it sets a bad precedent when the county, in appointing the highest law officer, skirts the law in doing so.

The Sheriff's Department has sometimes been accused of withholding vital public information, so Hubbard County politicians should not aid and abet it in this regard.

It's time for an open, honest appointment process, to assure taxpayers this next era in law enforcement will be a more transparent one.