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Polygraphs for city meetings

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Last week the Greensboro City Council voted 8-1 in favor of administering lie detector tests in an effort to determine who, if anybody, on the council leaked a copy of an investigative report to Greensboro’s only daily newspaper.

The report concerns allegations of racial profiling in the Greensboro Police Department under former Chief David Wray.

The leak has created strife among a council that in the past has prided itself on consensus ‘— the lone dissenter, Diane Bellamy-Small, was quoted as saying, ‘“It’s divisive’” ‘— and drawn attention away from the shocking revelations in the documents themselves.

And because Bellamy-Small was the only one who thought it was a bad idea to strap down our city government and force them to tell the truth, her role in the leak comes under renewed scrutiny.

The situation also raises an interesting question: Have things deteriorated so badly that we need polygraphs to tell whether out elected officials are lying through their teeth? Has it really come to this?

It has. And we’ve known it for quite some time.

The YES! Weekly editorial board to a one thinks that lie detector tests for our elected officials are a wonderful idea and we hope the Greensboro City Council will set a precedent by actually sitting down with the machines, paid for with taxpayer money but pulled from the individual members’ travel budgets, and tell what they know.

And we hope it won’t stop there.

We’d like to know, for example, what knowledge, if any, our council members had of Chief Wray’s alleged campaign of personal harassment against black officers. And we’d like to know how long they were aware of it before they told the rest of us.

We’d like to know about Project Homestead and the truth behind the whispers regarding connections between council members and Homestead’s former leader, the deceased Rev. Michael King, who was accused of running up a lavish expense account and pocketing accrued equity in the homes the company sold.

In fact, now that the subject has been raised and ratified, we’re thinking we might like to hook up the council members for every meeting and press conference and, most especially, during election campaigns so we can weed out the crap slingers before they can do real harm.

Eventually, of course, we’d like to see lie detector tests administered to every public official including Jim Black (Just how deep are you in with these lobbyists?), Governor Easley (Where, exactly, do you stand on the lottery issue) and everyone involved with decision-making in the Bush administration for the past five years (What were you people thinking?).

The standard polygraph measures a person’s involuntary responses ‘— accelerated heart rate, perspiration, changes in breathing patterns ‘— that are said to occur when that person is lying. People take them as a part of job interviews. They take them at the behest of their parents and spouses, on talk shows and in detectives’ offices. And they work. More or less.

The polygraph can be beaten, experts say, when the person strapped to it is such an accomplished liar that his misrepresentations barely register.

It can also be beat if the person lying is convinced he’s telling the truth.

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