Not long ago someone asked if I enjoyed attending so many meetings.
My answer, I think, surprised him.
Rarely a week goes by when I’m not in the crowd at a local government meeting or two. Or three. Sometimes, sadly, I am the crowd.
Thirty-seven years ago when I got into this business I thought the last thing I would be doing is covering local government. Sports was my beat then, and it’s what drew me into this business.
But times change, and with it job responsibilities. And once I began following local governments it became apparent to me how important it is to be there. It’s not that our local governments are shady and trying to hide things from the public. Quite the contrary, in fact.
I have it better than others when I make a public information request. I can count on one hand when my request was denied. In a few cases, I had to persist and eventually succeeded. In a few cases, I was wrong and the request was rightfully denied.
The point here is that keeping tabs on local government is important. Not because the elected officials are up to no good. But because much of what they do affects you.
My attendance at those meetings is part of what this paper does to shine a light on open government. But open government is also about access to public records. And that’s where you, the non-reporter citizen comes in.
You have every right to the same public records as I do in my job.
Another important part of public records is the requirement that governments publish certain records in the newspaper. In 1789, Acts of the First Session of the Congress ordered publication of government proceedings in newspapers. For 228 years, that decision has kept communities informed of city, county, school and other government business.
There have been attempts in other states to do away with that requirement. Without that mandate, government would, in some cases, have sole control of what information it provides.
Keep in mind, that is taxpayer-funded information they would be controlling.
There is value in having newspapers as an independent third-party check involved in keeping those records. We celebrate that value this week, Sunshine Week, a national celebration of government transparency.