Thursday, March 15, 2007

Always let the sun shine
on the governmental process

A nationwide information audit, conducted as a prelude to Sunshine Week, found slightly more than four in 10 of the official gatekeepers willing – if wary – to provide copies of emergency response plans, which federal law makes public.

Other local officials, however, reacted to requests with confusion, outright denials and sometimes by calling police to check out the auditors.

Florida did pretty well in the audit. Two-thirds of the requests were granted in full, and none were denied.

The danger to open government in Florida is a bevy of proposed public record exemptions already filed by state lawmakers. House Bill 1213, for example, is a real doozy that would bar the public from viewing any name or number used to identify an individual contained in a government document. Even innocent possession of such information, say by a reporter or researcher, would be a felony.

Why does it matter?

Public trust is at the heart of our democracy, scrutiny keeps public officials honest, and information is the foundation of informed debate.

“We’re in an era, clearly, where there’s a lot of distrust in government,” said Bill Chamberlin of the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida. “The more the public officials are open in their conversation and show the documentation that they’re basing decisions on, it’s going to help the public have faith in what officials are doing.”

So what can you do? Know your rights (read the law here), urge your legislators to vote against any further restrictions on open government and wear an orange "Govern in Sunshine" plastic wristband to remind the folks around you about the continued importance of preserving the public's right to know.


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