Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has been less than forthcoming when asked for public documents.
If Gov. Robert Bentley has a brand, it is his ability to inspire trust. Both in his 2010 campaign and as governor, his soothing words and engaging smile have given Alabamians the sense that the retired doctor is trustworthy.
A disturbing lack of transparency, however, is eroding that trust.
Amendment 1, transferring about $437 million to the state’s General Fund, passed Sept. 18 largely because a reluctant population trusted Bentley’s predictions of doom had it failed.
Yet in October, when the TimesDaily and The Decatur Daily requested correspondence between Bentley or his staff and agency leaders and lawmakers about possible budget cuts and agencies’ plans if Amendment 1 had failed, he flatly refused.
It was the people’s money, he effectively said, but it’s none of the people’s business.
So Alabamians are left wondering. Was he honest in his claims that agencies would have seen 15 percent cuts if the amendment failed? If so, why is he hiding the correspondence?
Bentley, and sometimes his wife, used state-owned aircraft for state-related business more than 150 times between January 2011 and June 2012.
Their destinations have been across Alabama, as close to Montgomery as Auburn — an hour’s drive — and as far away as Mobile and Decatur. Flight logs on the governor’s office website list the date and destination of the flights, including several to New Orleans to discuss BP litigation; Washington, D.C.; Tucson, Ariz., for a job-recruitment trip; and Atlanta to watch Auburn University play in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
What the website does not say is how many taxpayer dollars are spent each time Bentley lifts off. So that’s what the newspapers asked for in a public records request in July.
Five months later, Bentley’s office has not provided the information.
We don’t know that the expense of Bentley’s travel is excessive. It could be perfectly reasonable. But we won’t know until Bentley’s office meets its obligation to be transparent with taxpayers.
Bentley’s popularity with voters stems from a sense that he is trustworthy. Trustworthy officials, though, are open ones. If he is who he claims to be, Bentley needs to stop hiding public documents from the people.