HOWARD DENIS has an old-fashioned hangup about secrecy in government: he doesn't like it. And as a Republican state senator from Montgomery County he has been on the outside of more than a few insiders' closed-door meetings in which public business has been conducted. His response has been to press for laws requiring government bodies to hold open meetings except in special circumstances. The state government today is subject to such a law, originally cosponsored by Sen. Denis. The senator also joined in a successful lawsuit that opened the doings of the conference committee on the state budget; and he originated a state law requiring school boards to elect their officers at open meetings. That's good, but the senator says the spirit of the state laws is being violated by some county governments.

In the senator's own home county, the all-Democratic Montgomery County Council has been slipping behind closed doors quite a bit lately -- 45 times in a year to consider high-level political appointments, according to a report cited by Sen. Denis. This year, he's seeking enactment of a bill that would require all government bodies in the state to conduct open meetings when considering political appointments. County and local governments still would be allowed to close meetings to discuss matters involving paid employees, the senator notes.

Opponents argue that some appointees would be reluctant to volunteer for government jobs such as memberships on advisory committees if their appointments were considered in public proceedings. But why should these county appointments be handled in secret when the governor's nominations are considered openly?