Sunshine Week is important to everyone

Sunshine Week began Sunday and runs through Saturday. As the name implies, Sunshine Week is designed to promote discussion and support so-called Sunshine Laws, legislation that ensures open government and freedom of information.

While Sunshine Week, which began in Florida in the early 2000s, was created by and is primarily observed by journalists, it really is about the public’s right to know what government is doing … and why.

Sunshine Laws provide for open meetings, with rigid rules on how such meetings can be conducted and provisions for informing the public of upcoming regular and special meetings of public boards and commissions.

Of course, like most aspects of government in action, transparency is a two-way street.

While the value to the public of knowing how the government carries on is obvious, we the people have an obligation as well. It is our right, as well as our duty, to attend pubic meetings, or at the very least to read about them, follow media reports or look up what is taking place.

To some, concern about government transparency may be viewed as paranoid or a throwback to a by-gone era. An era when we didn’t walk around with an abundance of information literally at our fingertips.

But, even today the concern is real, and our participation is needed more today than in recent memory.

When President Obama took office in 2009 he promised to run the most transparent administration in American history.

Unfortunately that has not been the case, and in some respects the exact opposite has occurred.

According to a new analysis of federal data by the Associated Press, the Obama administration cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly.

The government’s own figures show the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases information, despite that promise to become the most transparent ever.

In the past year, despite, or rather because of public interest over the NSA’s surveillance programs. the government withheld information a record 8,496 times, a 57 percent increase over the previous year and more than double the number of Obama’s first year in office.

Much worse was the record on use of another exemption from freedom of information law rules. In 81,752 situations, the government refused to provide documents because they involved how decisions were made.

AP analysts found that more than one-third of the 704,394 requests for information from the government last year were denied.

Despite election year promises, the Obama administration has become one of the most secretive in history.

Unfortunately, transparency concerns aren’t limited to federal government.

In January, The Daily Mining Gazette began a daily report of police activity on Page 3A. While the cooperation we have received from local law enforcement overall has been good, it has not been across the board.

There are still a couple of local police departments who refuse to participate in the program, even though the information we request certainly falls in line with the public’s right to know.

Sunshine Week is a time to celebrate the freedoms we have and, more importantly, to work diligently to ensure they are not taken away.