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As a popular television commercial suggests, image is everything. That's especially true when dealing with the public, as any politician can attest.

The worst thing you can do is project the image of someone hiding something, particularly something that people feel should be known. Even if truth and justice is on your side, most people won't see beyond the blinding lights of that image and, even after the light is off, the lingering flashes will color the way they view your cause.Someone needs to convey that message to the folks on the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee.

Utah's Olympic movement was empowered in 1989 by a solid majority in a statewide referendum. Six years later, even the most unflattering opinion polls show more than 50 percent still in favor of the bid. State residents clearly want the Games.

Yet the organizers still act as if they are hunkered on a beachhead, fighting for every precious piece of good publicity as they struggle toward the International Olympic Committee's promised land.

In recent weeks, the Deseret News learned that several local government officials were planning to travel to Budapest, Hungary, in June for the IOC's long-awaited decision on the 2002 Winter Games. Many will go at taxpayer expense.

Big deal. It's a legitimate use of public funds. Cities, of all government entities, have the most to gain from any economic benefits that result from the Games.

But when reporter Lisa Riley Roche asked for a list of those officials, bid organizers acted as if she were Bob Woodward and they had just orchestrated a break-in at Quebec's Olympic bid headquarters.

Her request was denied for two official reasons:

1. Publishing the names could make the homes of those officials vulnerable to burglaries while they are gone.

2. Some of the officials might not want people to know they are going.

The first reason is absurd. Using that logic, this newspaper should stop publishing the times of City Council meetings and any other public events that could tip off burglars.

But the second reason is disturbing. It presupposes something sinister or underhanded about the trip. Quite the opposite, the officials who signed up feel they have a legitimate and defensible reason to go. The bid committee is doing them a great disservice by withholding their names.

In fact, the people going on the trip are happy to admit to it. Ten of them did so without hesitation when asked.

And why not? If Salt Lake City gets the bid, cities will immediately begin negotiating for any remaining venues, including an ice arena, as well as for the other economic benefits. An investment of up to $5,000 to send a city official could pay off in big dividends.

The actions of Utah's Olympic bid organizers, ranging from this latest incident to its successful effort to stop grade school children from debating the topic, to its staunch refusal, until recently, to release its budget, are strange and confusing tactics for a group so worried about its image with the IOC.

It's time bid committee members lightened up. Trying to engineer nothing but good publicity in a free society is like trying to take a cat for a walk. You usually get clawed.

The bid committee is not a public body. It is a private organization that isn't subject to the state's open meetings and open records laws. That is beyond debate. But it nonetheless is very public. Every Utahn has an interest in an event that would focus all eyes on the state for a two-week period.

Budapest will mark the grand culmination of many years of hard work for Utah's bid organizers. If the IOC grants Utah the Olympics, it will arguably be the biggest sports triumph in the state's history. If the bid goes elsewhere, those who have worked hard, some without any pay, will have no reason to be embarrassed.

Openness, the kind that makes all Utahns feel included in this endeavor, would be the prudent policy.