Open and transparent government – it’s what the public should expect 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 16 through 22 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.
Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power. And that power is not something to be held close to the chest by politicians; it belongs to each of us in our role in voting politicians into office and depending on them for providing services, fair budgeting and just plain listening to the will of the people.
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 strives to provide 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.
And that’s the key. Keeping government transparent means newspapers must act as watchdogs, asking the uncomfortable questions, getting the information, and providing it in unbiased fashion to their readers. 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 “Your Right to Know.” That’s the heart of what government is all about. 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 in the open, even when that’s uncomfortable.
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.
Making it hard for the public to find out what’s going on is playing loose with open government. That’s why we report what we do.
Without information, we’re left in the dark. The better choice is to let the sun shine in.