It’s hard to know what’s going on inside the LePage administration because that’s the way Gov. LePage wants it. We are often forced to put together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces found in news releases, tightly controlled town hall meetings and appearances on friendly talk radio shows to get a picture of what our government is really up to.

Lately, the puzzle pieces are revealing a pattern of sneakiness and obfuscation, obscuring the people’s right to know about some of the most important functions of government, including education policy, public health and law enforcement.

This tendency to hide is often written off as an example of the governor’s rocky relationship with the press, but this is not about the press. The governor is directing his employees to put a lid on public information and to communicate with handwritten notes that are never archived, hiding information from everyone, not just the media.

A government without oversight is an environment where corruption gets a chance to grow. That might not be the intent, but history shows it will be the result if the governor keeps fighting to keep the sunlight out.

HIDING TEXTS

For instance, the governor’s aides were found to have used text messages to communicate in April when they were shutting the public out of a Blaine House meeting of a blue ribbon commission on education funding.

LePage had previously banned state officials from doing state business by text, after a former Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention employee testified that she had been instructed to use texts because they weren’t subject to the public records law.

Copies of the LePage aides’ texts were included in a court filing by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, part of a civil action against the administration for violating the state’s right to know law. The text messages made clear that the reason the meeting was going to be closed to the public was that LePage wanted it that way.

And why? The lawmakers and others on the commission who attended the session reported that nothing sensitive occurred, no confidential information was shared. They said it was a typical first session of a fact-finding group. Closing the doors had no purpose other than satisfying the governor’s desire to make his own rules and control the flow of information.

Last week, the governor’s Department of Health and Human Services asked the attorney general to review a rule change that would allow the department to keep certain data confidential: namely, the location of outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The department claims that releasing this information might inadvertently identify individuals in places like a school, where the population is small and everyone knows who’s out sick. But even if that’s true, warning people about an infectious disease outbreak would seem to be a bedrock duty of an agency that has “disease control” in its name. If that’s not a public health organization’s responsibility, what is?

REFIGHTING OLD CASE

The reason behind the rule change may be a 2015 settlement with this newspaper, in which the department agreed to release previously embargoed information about chicken pox outbreaks the previous school year. The paper argued that exposure to the virus could be deadly to a person with a compromised immune system, so information about where it is spreading is vitally important.

Having lost its case to keep the information secret, the administration is looking to change the rule that required officials to disclose the data.

There are many other examples, notably the six-month effort by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to review email communications between the Maine Warden Service and a reality TV production company that filmed a raid on suspected poachers in Allagash. The warden service has slowed every effort to research whether the cameras provided any incentive for the agency to push harder in Allagash.

What are they hiding? Maybe nothing. But the fact that a law enforcement agency won’t turn over routine communications is reason enough to be concerned.

After five years in office, Gov. LePage is not getting any better when it comes to maintaining the public’s right to know. His aversion to conducting public business in public is not only a waste of resources, it’s against the law.

It’s time that a court put the pieces of the puzzle together and sanction the governor for acting as if right to know laws do not apply to him.