Happy Sunshine Week! Each year, journalists celebrate and remind communities of the importance of transparency in government. People’s right to know and access to public information remains integral.
Now with the transition to our new virtual reality, access is that much more important.
Last week in our publisher’s column, she shared how the media must be essential personnel in a time like this, which means being included in meetings now closed to the physical public.
The community, for the most part, has transitioned well into this temporary normal of wrestling technology and working through kinks to provide access for media.
I’ll echo Kristen’s praise of 4th Judicial District Judge John Fenn, who reached out to me personally to see how he could help us with access during a time of social distancing. He unfortunately had to postpone a trial set on his docket for next week because of the inability to host such a large number of citizens in one room for jury selection.
Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library Director Cameron Duff easily slid into both video and audio call-in options for meetings and reached out to ask us if there was more he could be doing.
Other larger systems like Sheridan County Commission, Sheridan City Council and the school districts have had similar transitions of ease with a few minor glitches of people falling offline every so often. As a journalist naturally skeptical of what happens after the host clicks off the audio in a meeting, it’s a struggle to not be there in person, but we’re doing our part to comply with social distancing recommendations while also providing necessary information from government leaders.
While media access has been at the forefront of those officials’ minds, I believe there’s another important level officials must remember — their voting public. While many citizens do not physically attend council meetings in normal circumstances — I was literally the only member in council chambers last week that was not an employee or part of the governing body — providing access nonetheless is important.
We will do our best to share the codes given to media to call or video chat in so you, as citizens, can remain informed. Monday night’s city council study session provided both, and I successfully listened to the meeting via Google Hangouts until the mayor’s technology glitched and he was dropped from the call.
Another step citizens must take, though, is a little planning. You can’t just waltz into a meeting and sign up to speak anymore. Now, with a little planning, you can look up the agenda — published in our newspaper each Saturday or on the government body’s respective websites — and email the clerks or secretaries with requests to speak, letters to be read into the record or comments to mayors, councils and boards.
For those stuck at home, this is a great opportunity for you to check in on those you voted for and see, in an election year, who is worthy of your vote in November.