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franklin county times

Sunshine Week enforces importance of transparent government action

Signs of spring are everywhere – from clumps of daffodils dotting the landscape, to this past weekend’s time change, to the Franklin County Times’ annual Spring Home and Garden section, in print this week. We’re preparing to emerge from our winter dens and embrace a world of sunshine.

But there’s more than one kind of sunshine bringing more light into the world.

Around this time each year, news organizations across the country recognize Sunshine Week – this year, March 10-16. This annual observance recognizes the importance of open records and the Sunshine Law – in Alabama, now called the Open Meetings Act – which requires certain proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public.

Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors – now News Leaders Association – and has grown into an “enduring initiative to promote open government and shine light into the dark recesses of government secrecy,” according to www.sunshineweek.org. It’s a nonpartisan collaboration among groups in the journalism, civic, education, government and private fields.

We’ve just elected several new local officials, so now is a great time to remind our leaders that they are answerable to the people they represent and serve. Part of that means operating in the light, making sure public records and meetings are made accessible to the average citizen.

That’s something newspapers have been committed to for decades.

Sunshine Week spreads the importance of transparent government at all levels, not just local or state. One law that ensures federal transparency is the Freedom of Information Act.

As it’s explained by www.foia.gov, since 1967, the FOIA has “provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.”

A lot of good comes out of having open government meetings and records. It allows people in the community to know what’s going on in their city council or county commission or at higher levels of government. It allows anyone to request records, including but not limited to budgets. It creates transparency. It helps us hold our leaders accountable, to make sure they are acting in our best interests. In the worst cases, it helps root out unscrupulous behavior and put a stop to corruption and under-the-table moves. All of this accountability increases public trust – or at least it should.

We have five city councils that meet in Franklin County, plus the Franklin County Commission. There’s also school boards, utility boards and other official groups. All of these meetings are open to the public. As your community newspaper, we benefit from the sunshine laws that give us access to these meetings, helping us share the information you want to know.

We hope you’ll take a moment – maybe while soaking up rays of sunshine this week – to reflect on the importance of sunshine laws and how they keep our government honest and working for us.

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