Last summer, First Lady Michelle Obama was criticized for having hired an "unprecedented number of staffers" to "cater to her every whim and to satisfy her every request in the midst of the Great Recession."
An e-mail campaign followed that included information stating that with 22 staffers with combined annual salaries of $1.6 million, the First Lady had amassed an army of employees greater than any before her.
The e-mail claimed that prior first ladies had nowhere near as many employees, saying Jackie Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter and Laura Bush had just one while even Hillary Clinton had only three.
The truth, of course, lay somewhere in between.
When contacted by the national media, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Michelle Obama's press secretary, actually put the first lady's office staff at 24.
That may indeed be the largest of any first lady to date.
But other assertions were way off. Hillary Clinton actually had 19 staffers answering directly to her, while Laura Bush wasn't far behind with 18 and $1.4 million in annual salaries.
In this instance the media did its job. Disclosure not only gave Americans the facts to form their own conclusions but also dispelled the hearsay that all too often runs rampant in politics.
As common as this is at the federal level, it is perhaps even more so on the local level.
It is for this reason that I want to publicly commend our Essex County Board of Supervisors for tackling the sensitive issue of its own hiring practices by forming an ethics committee subject to public scrutiny.
Have there been instances in which relatives have received preferential treatment in obtaining a job at the county?
Personally, I don't believe so. I know many hard working county employees I'd be proud to work alongside in the private sector. I honestly don't believe anyone was handed a job simply because of their last name.
I believe County Manager Dan Palmer when he says - like any private sector employer - that a department head would want to choose the most qualified, hardest working person for the job.
After all, you're only as good as the individuals you surround yourself with.
But do I believe the public has a right to know when a department head hires a direct relative or that of a county supervisor?
Unlike the private sector, county government is answerable to the taxpayer. To make informed decisions about elected officials and the policies they put in place, the public needs to know these facts.
More so, they have the right to know.
If for nothing else than, as in the case of Obama, to dispel the vicious rumors that propagate when government exists in a vacuum.
Good government is open government, and it should be the job of not only the media but the public as a whole to demand that.
Following the article we published a few weeks ago reporting that Sandy Lewis addressed the county board urging full disclosure with the county's hiring practices, we were criticized on a number of fronts.
We were criticized for singling out people.
We were criticized for not having the facts straight when the article first broke - for sensationalizing a non-issue in the interest of "selling papers." (My personal favorite, considering our papers are free.)
Valid arguments, although ones I would dispute. The facts in this case were anything but easy to acquire, and they remain not fully disclosed to this day.
Nevertheless, Lewis and the subsequent media coverage at least started a dialogue - one that has led to greater transparency.
Call it the journalist in me - but I can't see the downside to that.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications. Comments on this and other columns and articles are welcome at www.denpubs.com.