Editorial: Shining government sunshine

Mar. 17, 2014 @ 11:20 PM

Knowledge is championed this week, and we’re not talking about using it for the billion dollars available in Warren Buffett’s bracket challenge.

This is Sunshine Week. It is all about the public’s right to know. Without open, public records, everyone can be left in the dark.

One myth to clear up at the outset: This is not a media-only event. It may often seem that way, that only newspapers and television stations are cracking open doors, looking at the skeletons in the closet.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. We don’t mind taking the call asking if we know something and will we look into it, but the responsibility reaches far beyond the media.

Said Jim Lee of the Carroll County (Md.) Times: “Overseeing government at all levels is not a press right, it is a right of every citizen. And the more citizens exercise that right, the better our government will become.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. But it should.

Jim Zachary is the director of Transparency Project of Georgia, and the Tennessee Transparency Project. His words should strike each of us.

“Local government has the biggest impact in the lives of citizens on a day-to-day basis,” Zachary writes. “Whether it is in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, personal property taxes, business taxes, state-shared dollars or federal grants, loans and funding, local government is 100-percent taxpayer funded. The decisions being made, the monies being spent and the records being kept by city hall, the county commission, the board of education or the utility district all belong to liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, independents, tea party volunteers, Libertarians and even politically disinterested individuals. All stakeholders have a stake in open meetings and public records and should care about transparency issues.”

The Dispatch expanded its public records listings in January, bringing back items it has at various times published. We brought them back as a way to share information with our audience.

There are far more than we actually print. They are part of an open government.

And make no mistake, government must be open and transparent in order to be good.