As journalists, we tend to focus on the importance of government transparency in doing our jobs. The need for access to our government, though, goes far beyond the news.
Sunday marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, a national initiative meant to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.
While journalists work tirelessly to hold public officials accountable and demand transparency in how and why our leaders do what they do, individual citizens take on the same challenges.
One such story was recalled in a column by Pam Fine, the Knight Chair for News, Leadership and Community for the University of Kansas. She wrote:
“Kansas resident Debbie Miller also challenged secrecy when she filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) after officials in her town of Independence refused to provide her with a blank copy of the form they used to evaluate the city manager. City officials said the form was related to a ‘personnel matter’ and created specifically to evaluate their city manager so they didn’t have to make it public. Miller filed a complaint with the Kansas attorney general who ruled in her favor. It turned out the form was actually taken from the Internet. The city was ordered to release the document, provide training in open records law to city officials and pay a $250 fine.”
Local residents in Sheridan also spend time nipping at the heels of local governments, requesting documents and calling representatives to ask questions and review documents.
While sometimes considered a nuisance, those individuals work alongside professionals in careers such as journalism to ensure open government remains a basic American right.