NO ONE REALLY could expect Mayor Barry to be overjoyed at having to respond to requests made by this newspaper for documents related to city government contracting practices -- even if this is something that involves the pocketbooks and interests of all his constituents. But Mr. Barry's overeaction -- loaded with inaccurate assumptions and racial innuendo about the reasons this kind of information is being sought -- is an insult to every D.C. taxpayer. Instead of readily sharing public business with the public, Mr. Barry accuses The Post of singling out the District government in some sort of effort to embarrass his administration and to destroy the city's program to promote minority-owned businesses.

Never mind that the requests were made under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act, or that similar requests are made all the time by this newspaper and others to local governments throughout the suburbs and to the federal government as well. Mr. Barry would have everyone believe that such inquiries are politically motivated, and that "a lot of people don't want $158 million (worth of contracts in the last year) going to the minority business community." Quite aside from the vague and nasty undertones of that statement, it just might be that a lot more people want to know, and are entitled to know, how their money is being spent for anything that's public business. And if the records are clean, there's no reason to balk.

The mayor also claimed he was told by a Post employee that the newspaper was out to "get" his administration. That's news to us; surely Mr. Barry will share with the public any specifics he has on this more readily than he has the details of various contracting arrangements. But in the meantime, does Mayor Barry want his administration to be accorded some special protection from questions asked of local governments everywhere else? Is that what D.C. taxpayers would prefer? Or wouldn't it be much simpler and administratively cheaper to open the books regularly for all to see that there's nothing to hide?