Last week was known as Sunshine Week across our great land. What exactly is Sunshine Week? Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.
In the past I have personally witnessed elected or appointed government officials attempt to keep the public in the dark on how public government is operating. They attempt to do this probably because they know the public would not approve of their actions. Never forget that our government is just that… “our government”. In addition it is your money that is paying for government (if you are a taxpayer), therefore you have every right to know how your government is operating.
Many people ask us how to request information from a government entity/agency and what information is public? There are a few exceptions in the law, but for the most part all government records are public record. Examples include documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information. The News-Banner recommends that when a person decides to make a request to a government entity, instead of making an oral request, make a written request for the information and be specific in what you are requesting (example shown above). The government entity has three days to respond to a written request once it is received. If an agency attempts to forbid your request, ask the government entity to cite the specific code section of the law, subsection and paragraph the agency relies on to deny the request. Keep in mind that an agency can charge you a small fee for retrieval of the records requested (after the first 15 minutes, which are free) and copying fees (10 cent per page).
In my personal opinion, now more than ever, we all need to take a more active approach in holding our government accountable. Consider this. Do you, as a customer, hold a business accountable when you purchase a product? How about a repairman, do you expect them to fix something when you pay them for a service rendered? People demand to get their money’s worth, especially when money is tight. We should all demand the same type accountability from our government.