Let the Sun Shine In

Open and transparent government – it’s what the public should expect and demand from officials at the local, state and national level. And providing information about the operation of government at the local level is a job this newspaper takes seriously.

March 13 through 19 is Sunshine Week, a reminder that government business conducted in the open is at the heart of a democracy. If we don’t know what elected officials are doing, we have no way to hold them accountable.

And the more information we all have, the better – as Thomas Jefferson said, “information is the currency of democracy.” That information is not something to be held close to the chest by politicians; it belongs to each of us so we can do our duties as citizens.

Sunshine Week is a national effort spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors. Though the week was created by journalists, it’s not about newspapers, it’s about the public’s right – emphasize that word – to know what its government is doing. It encourages every citizen to take a role in government, and to expect to receive access to information to help them govern.

James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, wrote that “consent of the governed” requires that people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” That means in our participatory democracy, every citizen has a right to access government meetings and public records.

Keeping government transparent also means newspapers must act as watchdogs, asking the uncomfortable questions and providing information in unbiased fashion to their readers, even when it makes public officials squirm. If documents are not readily made available, the state’s Right to Know process is ready for everyone to use.

The motto of Sunshine Week is “Open Government is Good Government.” As a citizen in a democracy, you have the right to know how your government operates, and your elected officials have the obligation, except in carefully delineated situations, to conduct their business and answer questions in the open, even when that’s uncomfortable for them.

We know it’s easier for officials to discuss public business in private, where strategies can be aired without anyone listening. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Discussion is to be public. In a quorum. On the record.

Without information, we’re in the dark. The better choice is to let the sun shine in.

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