Transparency is not a yes-or-no concept

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In a political season filled with negative energy, I half expect a political action group to take out an ad that sounds or reads in a menacing way, trying to sway votes toward someone else: “News-Bulletin Sports — Wrong for the environment — wrong for New Mexico.”

No, we are not campaigning for any office or seat or cause — save for getting kids’ names and images into the paper. We have no obvious political opponents, but school administrators seem to have plenty, so let’s address one of the key words they often use: transparency.

First of all, let me announce I am not going to take up the side of either the public’s thirst for information, nor will I defend or stick up for either Belen Schools athletic director Rodney Wright or Los Lunas Schools athletic director Wilson Holland. This is not an attempt to either convict or help the justify the actions of either man or their departments, but rather, to explain how transparency works: It’s not a black-and-white concept. There are a million shades of gray.

To me, there’s a spectrum of transparency, with nice, clear explanations and athletic information near one end, and a dark, secretive mystery down near the other. But it’s important for us to remember that humans, especially athletic directors, get to either end; no administrator I’ve met is completely evil, just as none have ever really achieved total transparency.

Some of their defects regard protecting their own self-interest — a kind a of natural self-preservation that goes beyond rules and regulations. The red tape, on the other hand, is a problem unto itself. In many cases, if ADs told us what we wanted to know, it would cost them their jobs, and possibly a license.

While I don’t share some of the public outcry that ADs are inherently dishonest and are only interested in helping their buddies, I will probably always feel there is something more they could be doing to let the public know what’s going on.

If high school athletes are able to gain privileges, prestige and sometimes college scholarships through athletics, their rock-star benefits must be matched with an added accountability that goes beyond that of the average student, and the amount of information available about them and their programs should rival that of adults, rather than small children.

There are millions of levels of transparency, so it’s tough to say any program is completely pure or wholly deceptive. Sure, there are choices Holland and Wright make where I don’t agree and/or understand, but I try to channel that frustration into pushing for more openness and information on that particular issue and others.

I feel the Los Lunas High baseball coaching situation could have been handled a lot more smoothly, especially regarding communication, and especially regarding information we received. But I respect that Holland told me last month that the removal of Riggins, along with offering Pete Candelaria the head job and then asking him to coach the C-Team “could have been handled differently,” and that it was a learning experience for many involved.

The News-Bulletin submitted two letters to Los Lunas Schools requesting the names of parents and any students that served on the baseball coach interview committee. We were denied the names on both request, which, to us, seems to be moving away from transparency.

The district could release more information about the one-match suspension of Valencia High coach Eric Gutierrez. No one expects Los Lunas Schools to violate rules and embarrass Gutierrez or other district personnel, but parents and fans deserve a brief statement about what type of violation occurred.

On the other hand, the district has been up front about the tough choices surrouding the aging Los Lunas High pool, and the rather ugly prospect of the community’s only public pool not being open next summer.

The hunger for information and the speed of technology probably makes administrators more apprehensive than ever. During a recent meeting at Belen High, Wright’s directives about social media were being communicated to me, ironically, through social media sites — while the meeting was still going on.

The public’s right to know is complicated by an almost instantaneous ability to know, and to tell the world.

While public school officials differ from their private-school counterparts, as they work entirely off taxpayer dollars and don’t charge general tuition, openness in government has been a tough fight throughout our nation’s history. It seems to be the nature of our leaders to not allow public input, while the press seeks to bring everything out into the open.

I pass no blanket judgment on Holland, Wright or any other AD as having “passed the test” of transparency. It’s not a degree you can get or a stamp or badge. It’s an ongoing process. Hopefully, we are gradually and progressively moving toward the light, and away from the darkness.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.