Your right to know

Record Observer - - Opion -

This is the 12th an­nual Sun­shine Week, fo­cus­ing on open gov­ern­ment and free­dom of in­for­ma­tion.

Since 2005, the week has been held an­nu­ally in mid-March, co­in­cid­ing with Na­tional FOI Day and the March 16 birth­day of James Madi­son, who wrote the Bill of Rights. The week­long event stems from Sun­shine Sun­day, launched by Florida news­pa­per ed­i­tors in 2002 to high­light ef­forts by law­mak­ers to add nu­mer­ous ex­emp­tions to that state’s pub­lic records law.

“Sun­shine Week is about the pub­lic’s right to know what its gov­ern­ment is do­ing, and why,” ac­cord­ing to the Sun­shine Week web­site, www.sun­shine­week.org.

Though cre­ated by jour­nal­ists, Sun­shine Week par­tic­i­pants “in­clude news me­dia, civic groups, li­braries, non­prof­its, schools and oth­ers in­ter­ested in the pub­lic’s right to know,” ac­cord­ing to the Sun­shine Week web­site.

A trans­par­ent, open gov­ern­ment is es­sen­tial to a prop­erly func­tion­ing democ­racy. The pub­lic has the right to know, de­serves to know and must know what the gov­ern­ment is do­ing.

Trans­parency al­lows for ac­count­abil­ity. How can the pub­lic gauge and judge the ac­tions of elected and ap­pointed of­fi­cials with­out hav­ing knowl­edge of what they are do­ing and why?

Some gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials seem to for­get some­times that they work for us. The gov­ern­ment is not their pri­vate en­clave. It ex­ists to serve the pub­lic. It is funded by our taxes.

The fed­eral Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice web­site, took ef­fect in 1967, en­sur­ing that “any per­son has a right, en­force­able in court, to ob­tain ac­cess to fed­eral agency records,” though there are spe­cial ex­emp­tions to the law.

In Mary­land, there are two key laws gov­ern­ing open gov­ern­ment and free­dom of in­for­ma­tion.

The Mary­land Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Act — avail­able on­line at www.oag. state.md.us/Open­gov/pia.htm — is the state’s free­dom of in­for­ma­tion law, giv­ing the “pub­lic the right to ac­cess gov­ern­ment records with­out un­nec­es­sary cost and de­lay,” ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice.

The law ap­plies to all three branches of Mary­land state gov­ern­ment as well as lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

The Mary­land Open Meet­ings Act — www.oag.state.md.us/Open­gov/ Open­meet­ings/in­dex.htm — pro­vides for pub­lic ac­cess to the meet­ings of pub­lic bod­ies.

The Open Meet­ings Act re­quires pub­lic bod­ies to pub­li­cize a meet­ing, even when the plan is to claim one of the 14 ex­emp­tions to have it closed. A vote must be taken in an open meet­ing, be­fore a closed meet­ing can be con­vened. A clos­ing state­ment must be made avail­able im­me­di­ately upon the de­ci­sion to close a meet­ing. It needs to go be­yond a generic ref­er­ence to the law. Min­utes of open meet­ings must be made avail­able in a rea­son­able amount of time.

The Open Meet­ings Act page also con­tains a link to an on­line class on the Open Meet­ings Act. Rec­om­mended for the pub­lic, press, elected and ap­pointed of­fi­cials and vol­un­teers, the class takes less than three hours to com­plete and in­cludes six lessons with quizzes through­out.

We hope our elected and ap­pointed of­fi­cials are fa­mil­iar with and prop­erly fol­low both the open meet­ings and pub­lic in­for­ma­tion laws.

We also strongly en­cour­age the pub­lic to be­come fa­mil­iar with the process for get­ting pub­lic in­for­ma­tion and the laws con­cern­ing open meet­ings.

It’s your gov­ern­ment. It’s your right to know.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.