The public’s right to know is the focus of Sunshine Week, March 11-17, a national celebration promoting openness in government.
Though spearheaded by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
Led by the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week is funded primarily by a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami.
Most people associate open government with the Freedom of Information Act and most of what they know about FOIA tends to be from news stories relying on the use of records obtained through the federal FOIA or a state counterpart. However, journalists are only the third largest users of the federal FOIA, filing about 10 percent of all FOIA requests per year.
Open government means more than open records. Open meetings are a large component of transparency and a key tool for citizens to have their voices heard immediately, especially at the local level.
The Sunshine Week observance encourages people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to know their rights to access public information that is important in individual communities.
In addition to the federal laws, Texas has its own statutes, including the Texas Public Information Act, detailed in Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code, and the Texas Open Meetings Act, detailed in Chapter 551 of the Government Code. These acts apply to all governmental bodies, including all boards, commissions and committees created by the executive or legislative branch.
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know,” the law states.
During Sunshine Week, newspapers are encouraged to publish editorials about what their local governments are or are not doing to make the public’s business public and keep information available to citizens.
In addition, the Sunshine Week website (www.sunshineweek.org) has information available to help, including opinion columns, editorials, logos, icons and editorial cartoons.
Also included are a sample proclamation for state and local governments and links to Freedom of Information resources and MuckRock’s Public Records Data. For Texas-specific resources, visit the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas website, www.foift.org, for a Guide to Texas Open Records and Open Meetings Laws and direct access to the Texas statutes, among other useful links.