Sunshine: Citizens have a right to know
It is a shame so much about government of the people, by the people, for the people is kept from the people. In fact, often, the more a governing official promises transparency, the more is being concealed — or, at least, the harder it is to access what should be public information.
Each year, at about this time, the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press holds Sunshine Week, with the theme “It’s Your Right to Know.” They call it an annual, nationwide celebration of access to public information. It is also a chance to remind the public that when policymakers try to implement rules that make government more opaque, that limit access to information or raise fees to the point of putting that information out of reach, it leads to the inevitable question: What are they trying to hide?
For the average citizen, the bridge to all that public information is the media. That is why the principles celebrated during Sunshine Week are so important to those of us in the news business. Without continued pressure on government to conduct its business as openly as possible, we cannot give our readers the information they need. Certainly, if it is more difficult for us, it is more difficult for those members of the public with the resources to track down the public records they need or file their own Freedom of Information Act requests.
Those of you interested in finding out more about the FOIA requests filed with state and local governments in West Virginia can take advantage of one transparency tool that gives members of the public quite a window into government operations — the Secretary of State’s Freedom of Information Act Database at https://apps.sos.wv.gov/FOIA/Requests/.
There are many other ways citizens can act as watchdogs for the freedom to the information that is rightfully theirs. Among the most important is reminding elected officials for whom they work, and for whom they are obligated to keep the windows into all levels of government wide open.