Seeing through all the transparency

January, 12, 2013
It's amazing how a word can be relatively obscure for a century and then all of a sudden it takes on a new context. Next thing you know, it's trending all over the Internet like an Alabama beauty queen.

A good example of this phenomenon are words like "transparency" and "transparent." They used to apply to windows. Now they're the new gold standard in conducting business.

It has now become hip to be "transparent" so that everyone knows what you're doing and you can be completely open and honest with the world.

Makes sense, right?

Except that transparency has been so contorted that it often means anything but a looking-glass environment. In a world where complete transparency is nearly impossible to find, some people who are supposedly engaging in it are only playing a shell game in which they let people see what they want them to see.

This is offered amidst the backdrop of the announcement that the New York Racing Association Board of Trustees will conduct another meeting that will be open to the public, this one on Jan. 25 in Manhattan.

With the state of New York now running NYRA, the group's meetings have taken on the look and feel of many governmental boards with their "transparent" public meetings -- which, of course, are anything but. We see only what politicians want us to see while they consummate their more meaningful deals behind closed doors and away from the public eye.

And so, on the 25th, we can once again expect to see a stream of tweets detailing every sentence from the mouth of board members and a bevy of questions and answers. But will the real issues facing New York be addressed openly and frankly? That's a little cloudy.

Will board members detail the grand plan Governor Andrew Cuomo has for the sport  one that will no doubt be rubber-stamped by NYRA officials, like Chairman of the Board David Skorton, who know who's really running the show? Will we find out what NYRA is really looking for in a CEO and why it's taking so long to hire one?

More than a public meeting covering a few areas of concern, it would be far better to have true transparency in the dealings between people like Skorton or the next CEO and the Governor's office. What was really said to convince Skorton to add "Overseeing NYRA" to a day planner that still includes "Running Cornell?" We all know Skorton is a very smart man, who is smart enough to say "Yes, Governor." But does he have the character to get a phone call and say "No, Governor" when Cuomo or one of his minions seek changes that might help taxpayers but hurt NYRA's customers? The answers to those questions and hearing those conversations provide the kind of transparency that would be beneficial and welcomed but sadly will never happen.

While NYRA received praise from many for its first public board meeting on Dec. 12, it was na´ve to think that transparency would cure the association's ills.

Since that first meeting, a CEO has still not be named  and if transparency was truly the goal for NYRA then we should be able to listen in to both the interviews of each candidate and the meeting where someone is finally chosen.

Also, in recent days it has seemed like 2012 all over again with three fatal breakdowns in three racing programs from Jan. 6-10.

So much for transparency. What NYRA needs is a clear vision and some brilliance in problem-solving. How all of that happens, doesn't really matter. It can arise from a public meeting or talks under the "Cone of Silence" from a "Get Smart" episode.

In the end, the new-look NYRA's legacy should be based on what it accomplished rather than how it was accomplished.

That should be transparent to everyone.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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