Wick Communications

Let the sunshine in

In First Amendment on 9 Mar 2012 at 9:37 am

Sunshine Week comes at an opportune time for us at the Half Moon Bay Review.

What, you’ve never heard of Sunshine Week? It’s an initiative sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that is designed to spark conversation about the importance of open government and freedom of information issues. It is six years old and coincides with James Madison’s birthday, which means it is observed the week of March 11.

As a matter of practice, I’m not a big fan of these “week of” deals. For instance, Thursday was the International Women’s Day. As a certain female reporter noted, does that mean we are free to ignore women the rest of the year? These things just seem arbitrary to me.

Having said that, we are in the sunshine business. And, if you are like me, nary a day goes by that someone somewhere doesn’t try to hide something from you. Folks obfuscate and hide because they don’t want us to know what they are up to, but I think the secrecy effect goes beyond that. I think we are wired to keep secrets — or to try anyway.

Last week, we had occasion to ask City Hall for the resume of the city planning director. There were rumblings that he was asked to resign and someone suggested that he lacked professional credentials. But the City Clerk sent us a boilerplate paragraph in response, saying that we sought private, personnel information. We disagreed, appealing to the city attorney, who ultimately agreed with us. …

This week the same city announced a six-figure settlement with the IRS, which held the city had misused federal stimulus money in 2009. City leaders said they had been wringing hands about it since 2010, yet it was never listed on any public agenda beyond “closed session for potential litigation.” Meanwhile, the IRS says it doesn’t release any information about these things. Why? Isn’t it all our money? Aren’t these both public agencies?

Sadly, I’m sure you have your own similar tales to tell. Bureaucrats think these secrets are the locus of their power. They know that public disclosure will only bring them headache or worse.

Next week, find a reason to be a headache. There is no higher calling in our democracy.

While you are at it, you might tell readers it’s Sunshine Week. Organizers have put together a host of resources and a bunch of good ideas. I’d love to hear your own.



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