Last week was Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate access to government and to remind officials that their records and meetings are our records and meetings.
Our tax dollars fund government, and we have the right to see what city, county, school, township, watershed, state, and federal officials see. Nearly everything from court files to police reports to marriage licenses are available for public inspection. We have a right to attend public meetings, even ones classified as workshops or retreats.
From lawmakers to bureaucrats to local leaders, not everyone grasps the concept of open government. Many simply want the public to trust they are doing their jobs.
Sunshine Week, launched by the American Society of News Editors in 2005, aims to remind public officials to be respectful of open records and open-meetings laws. It coincides with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights.
This year, the American Society of News Editors, along with the Associated Press and Associated Press Media Editors, used the week to highlight the troubling trend across American journalism of the loss of local news coverage. As newspapers have to shut their doors, people are left in the dark, unaware of the truth of what is going on in their communities.
Along with these efforts, an aim last week was to continue to push for open government and to push local officials to keep transparency in mind in all that is done. There is still much to do.
A person does not need to be a member of the news media to push for open records. We all have the same rights. All of us can be advocates for open government. Ask, ask, and ask again. It's good citizenship to keep an eye on the government. After all, the government is spending our tax dollars.
- Fergus Falls Daily Journal of Fergus Falls, Minn.