As spring approaches, we eagerly anticipate the warmth of abundant sunshine as it disinfects the world around us — and even our minds — of the cold, stale remnants of winter.
Sunshine has that effect on so many things, including our system of self-government. When the light of day shines brightly on the machinations of public policy, no matter how mundane or seemingly inconsequential, the people have the opportunity to be informed in a fashion to which they are entitled.
That’s why each March, the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press sponsor Sunshine Week, a nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community.
In 2018, Sunshine Week began Sunday and runs through Saturday. The week commemorates the anniversary of the birth of James Madison, the father of our federal Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Madison wrote that “consent of the governed” requires that the people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Every citizen in our participatory democracy has an inherent right to access government meetings and public records. What’s more, an open and accessible government is vital to establishing and maintaining the people’s trust and confidence in their government and in the government’s ability to effectively serve its citizens.
There are federal laws, such as the Freedom of Information Act, which guarantee public access to governmental documents and records. There are also state laws, such as Indiana’s open meetings and public records laws, which serve to protect the public’s right of access to records and meetings at all levels.
Even with those laws, the public often has to fight for access to their government. Sunshine Week helps the public and government officials better understand the principles of openness and transparency on which our nation was founded.
During this Sunshine Week, we urge elected and appointed officials at all levels to recommit to the principles of open government and to work diligently throughout the year to enhance the public’s access to government records and information, to increase information provided electronically and online, and to ensure that all meetings of deliberative bodies under its jurisdiction, and their committees, are fully noticed and open to the public.
A government serves best when the sun shines brightly upon it.