Editorial: Which is it, Gibbs or Condos?
In the race for Secretary of State, Vermonters have two good choices in Republican Jason Gibbs and Democrat Jim Condos. Both are political moderates, well-reasoned, well-liked within their respective parties, and have pragmatic agendas if elected to the office.
Their past experience differs significantly. Condos, a state senator from Chittenden County from 2001 to 2007 and a South Burlington city councilor for 18 years, has also been a senior employee for Vermont Gas Company for much of his professional career. He has business, legislative and town government experience on a first-hand basis — all of which are important assets for the position.
Gibbs, on the other hand, made his name as the press secretary for Gov. James Douglas, writing press releases by the dozens each week extolling the virtues of the governor — seldom with objectivity or modesty, as the job requires. After six years in the service of Gov. Douglas, he was appointed Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation in 2008 — a job Gibbs tackled with enthusiasm. In 18 months, he made noticeable strides in restructuring the department for greater efficiency — increasing the department’s revenue while cutting costs. While the young Gibbs (he’s in his early 30s) has been his own booster on his department’s behalf, it was still an impressive display of boundless energy and hard work — along with success.
On the issues, both want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the office, improve transparency of government, and strengthen the state’s open meetings and open records laws. The state is currently ranked near the bottom in government openness and transparency.
What, then, separates the two candidates in terms making progress within the scope of the Secretary of State’s office?
Certainly, it is not the support of the Vermont Municipal Clerks’ & Treasurers’ Association, as has been cited by others as a mark of distinction. That association based its support of Gibbs on a handful of issues: election day registration; instant run-off voting, a constitutional amendment to allow a few 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they turn 18 by the general election; and a couple items that were subjective, at best, such as listening and communicating with municipal officials. The VMCTA opposed the first three items, and Gibbs followed suit. But that’s a problem: the list includes items that would benefit the general public in terms of making elections more accessible and expedient, although each would mean more work — and greater hassle — for the town officials involved. Condos has the moxie to side with provisions that would allow more voters to participate in elections. He believes that problems encountered along the way can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.
Nor does Gibbs’ attack on Condos’ years as a South Burlington city councilor ring true in terms of mismanaging pension funds. As Gibbs should well know, pension funds across the country took a huge hit in the stock crash and recession of 2007-2009, and the South Burlington fund was among them. Condos may be partially responsible for approving the wage benefits, but he was one among many councilors — in South Burlington and across the nation — who did the same.
The more important questions, however, are to what degree will Condos or Gibbs work to improve access to public records and assure compliance with open meetings laws; and which would be the better leader to restructure the office for efficiency and effectiveness?
Condos has the better stand on open government. Not only would Condos support the recommendations made by the Vermont Public Records Commission in its 2007 report to the Legislature, he would also create an ombudsman position to provide timely review and assistance for public records requests. Newspapers well know that it is not only legal exemptions that cause crucial delays in public access to information, but also the actions of town, school and state officials to deny access to records or meetings that they may or may not know are public but choose to force a citizen or newspaper into the costly process of legal action — often effectively denying the public that information or public oversight. An ombudsman would help educate public officials on the laws and help Vermonters from being stymied by the legal process. Regardless of who wins this election, that’s an idea that should be implemented.
Condos also has pledged to “demand accountability from public officials, improve our election process, increase voter participation and strengthen campaign finance laws,” he says. “A commitment to open government must be a commitment to transparency at all levels of government, which includes open access to public records throughout our state agencies and departments.”
As a member of the Douglas administration, which was no friend of openness in government, we have less confidence that Gibbs would pursue those issues with equal vigor.
Gibbs would, however, bring an intense energy to restructuring the office for efficiency and effectiveness by, as he says, “simplifying and streamlining the professional licensing, business registration, regulatory functions and … eliminating frustrating, and unnecessary bureaucratic, paperwork and procedures.” He successfully brought new energy to the FPR and we believe he would be successful in his efforts to restructure the Secretary of State’s office as well.
We like Gibbs’ energy and enthusiasm and his willingness to tackle the chore of improving bureaucratic efficiency. He’s bright and sincere and has Vermont’s best interests at heart. We like Condos for his business background and first-hand experience in the legislature and on the city council. But, in particular, we applaud his ideas to improve open access to records and public meetings. On that latter score, we’ll cast our vote for Condos and encourage supporters of open government to do the same.
Angelo S. Lynn