Time to let Sunshine in

Mar. 18, 2014 @ 04:44 AM

The atrocities range in scope but, nevertheless, have the same effect.

In 2013, three public entities were nominated for the Society of Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) annual Black Hole Award for egregious violations of the public trust when it comes to open government.

One nomination was for the Washington State Board of Accountancy for reportedly abusing the deliberative process disclosure exemption of the state’s Public Records Act.

Another was for the city of South Bend, Ind. and its mayor, Pete Buttigieg. The city and the mayor refused to release recordings of telephone conversations to the public that included police officials taking part in reportedly “unethical, racial and possibly criminal content.”

The best of all — and the winner of the award — was Oklahoma State University.

The Student Press Law Center nominated the university, based in Stillwater, Okla. for, among several things, ignoring the Clery Act by not telling students the public or even the campus police department that university officials were aware of an alleged serial sex offender being on campus.

University officials cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for its rationale in not informing the public.

Whether you agree with those instances being cited for lack of open government or not, the fact remains public officials doing the public’s business behind closed doors is more common than you might think.

In 2002, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors created Sunshine Week in efforts to promote more transparency in government. The 12th annual celebration of Sunshine Week began Monday.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory campaigned for more openness and transparency in government, but that has been a campaign promise yet fulfilled.

Nationally, a massive spy program conducted by the National Security Agency is still being unmasked.

The fact of the matter is a lack of transparent government can be at any level. From the infamous Pentagon Papers in the 1970s to the aforementioned NSA debacle to contracts signed by county officials, the public has the right to know.

James Madison, who championed open government back in the 18th century, once said, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

That can hold true today.

By Matthew Clark, for the Editorial Board

 

The Daily Courier Editorial Board consists of community members Jerry Brewer, Kyle Bingham, Alex Moore, Tom Padgett and Cliff Strassenburg as well as Editor Matthew Clark.