Our View: Everyone should let the light shine


March 8, 2024

It’s time to shine a light on an annual week of mindfulness in the journalism industry. March 10-16 is Sunshine Week, a nonpartisan collaboration among groups in the journalism, civic, education, government and private sectors that shines a light on the importance of public records and open government.

At the Pine Knot, we are proud of our role in watching out for our readers. As you have read in the past, we are bullish on freedom of information issues and proper behavior by elected officials.

It isn’t easy covering more public bodies than we can count on our fingers. Every night of the week, save for weekends, thankfully, there can be a meeting to attend. That’s our job. But we know readers have their jobs as well. And kids. And school activities. And obligations galore.

We’re happy to fill in for those who just can’t make it to a meeting.

But this Sunshine Week, we’d like to press readers to make an attempt in the next year to attend more public meetings. See how the sausage is made. See how public bodies work.

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Most of all, we’d like readers to clue us in if they sense something awry in how a public body is handling public information or the people they represent.

Catch these often unsung public heroes in action.

And think about staking a claim of your own by running for office. Local service is the most impact a public servant can have on daily lives around us.

But every elected official must commit to following the laws that make up our democracy. Sunshine Week organizers offer a lot of thought-provoking observations regarding open government, like these from the Society of Professional Journalists:

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• If government records were not open to all, there would be no accountability and there would be no journalism. In essence, there would be no democracy, as democracy was founded on the principles of openness and freedom of information.

• Imagine what it would be like if reporters were unable to report on the actions of government officials or could not access records about government meetings. A lack of accountability might mean that those who hold positions of power would be more likely to abuse it.

• When government is open every person has the power to hold those in power accountable for following through on their promises and serving the people.

• A free and democratic society can work only if government works in the open. Access is what ensures that government officials will remain honest. It keeps us aware of how our taxes are spent and helps citizens decide whom to vote into office and whom to replace. It provides a check on government officials by providing voters with the information they need to evaluate public policies.

And lest we forget our rights to attend public meetings, here they are in a nutshell, courtesy of The New York Press Association:

“Open meeting laws give the public the right to attend meetings of public bodies, listen to the debates and watch the decision-making process in action. It requires public bodies to provide notice of the times and places of meetings, and to keep minutes of all action taken. Part of a meeting may exclude the public; these are known as executive sessions. An executive session may be called during an open meeting and after a majority votes to hold such a closed meeting, the public body can only discuss certain issues as dictated by law. These matters generally involve personal privacy or public safety issues. A public body cannot vote to appropriate public monies during a closed session.”


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