In First Amendment on March 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm
Be a beacon of sunlight.
Today marks the end of Sunshine Week. I had planned on using last week’s Kicker to suggest you spend this week giving the powers that be holy hell in the name of sunshine, but events conspired. I didn’t get around to an update last week. So here we are.
The good news is that this good fight never ends. Consider next week Sunshine Week as well, and the week after that. And the week after that.
There is some law of physics that holds: People will seek to control information in direct proportion to their relative need for power. The nice people who run your local nonprofit are likely to ask that you keep their fundraising totals under wraps, but here’s guessing they are a lot less difficult than your average dictator. The corollary to the law is that faceless individuals are most likely to deny you information. You know this to be true if you have ever emailed some state bureaucrat somewhere to ask for an innocuous document only to get something in which every line is needlessly redacted. Small people simply love to have a secret.
When people say no to your curiosity, they are also saying no to the thousands of people who count on you every day. Keep that in mind and your battle won’t feel as daunting nor as lonely. You will be made to feel like a prying jerk if, say, you ask how much everyone is paid at city hall. Just remember that money belongs to your readers and you will sleep well at night.
Here are some resources intended for Sunshine Week. Please take a look and find a dark place to shine some light.
In First Amendment on March 9, 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. … Read the rest of this entry »