Public information depends on all of us
March 13, 2017
by Ivan Raconteur

Truth has been under attack lately, and so has the English language.

There are those who would have us believe lies are simply “alternative facts.”

Some claim that deliberate acts were “inadvertent.”

Sunshine Week, March 12-18, is a celebration of the public’s right to know.

Now, more than ever, it is critical that we defend that right.

Newspapers have been on the front lines of this fight for ages.

Today, there are politicians who, for their own purposes, have labeled journalists as “enemies of the people,” and who have excluded legitimate, credentialed news organizations from press briefings.

Whenever I hear about someone trying to silence the press, I am compelled to ask one simple question. Why?

What are they trying to hide? What is it that they don’t want their constituents to know? What have they been up to that makes these politicians so afraid to answer the kinds of questions that responsible citizens ask?

We aspire to government by the people, of the people, for the people.

When those in government (elected officials or staff members) try to keep information away from the people, and try to operate in secret, we should all be concerned.

At every level of government, we must pay attention to what our elected officials are doing.

We must also remember that when public bodies release public information, they are not doing us a favor, they are fulfilling an obligation. They are required to make public information available, and when they fail to do so, we must hold them accountable.

Journalists and news organizations work hard to do just that, but the fight is not theirs alone.

All citizens must demand that public business be conducted in the open.

Even at the local level, public information is a big deal.

Based on years of experience observing elected officials, I believe in most cases, when a failure does occur, it is not the result of an attempt to circumvent the law.

In some cases, failing to distribute a public document that is being discussed during an open meeting, or council members discussing public business in private prior to a meeting may be an attempt to avoid embarrassment for some local person, but this is not their decision to make.

Public information is always public, not just when it is convenient.

At the local level, a lack of understanding of the law may also be a contributing factor. Some elected officials or staff members may err on the side of providing less information if they are concerned about releasing things that may not be public.

Reporters often have to remind officials what is public information, and we encourage them to consult their own legal counsel if they have any questions.

Sunshine Week is a time to celebrate the fact there are laws to ensure that public bodies release information that is public.

It is also a good time to remember that we all share the responsibility for keeping government open and accessible for all citizens.

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