March 11-17 marks the annual observance of Sunshine Week. No, we’re not talking about escaping the winter blahs in exchange for warmer weather and brighter skies.
We’re talking about transparency in government.
Regardless of your political stripe, we think it’s fair to say that everyone wants their government to be above board in its dealings.
The best way to ensure that government does that is through transparency — or sunshine.
Most of us don’t attend routine government meetings. Few of us have ever sat in the balcony at the General Assembly and watched the process of bills being made into laws.
For the most part, we expect journalists to tell us what our government is doing in the news columns of newspapers, on the nightly news or on news websites.
Try as they might though, journalists often run into blockades put up by government types — sometimes elected, sometimes appointed — who don’t think it’s in the best interest to explain all the machinations behind how government operates.
Unlike regular citizens or private enterprise, government doesn’t enjoy the privilege of telling people “it’s none of your business.”
North Carolina has robust laws on the books that protect the public’s right to information. Those laws, however, fall woefully short of providing carrots or sticks to government officials to make public information available.
In other words, a government official found guilty of withholding public information is likely to face no consequences other than being forced to make the information available.
We often hear from government officials that they believe strongly in transparency. It’s time legislators put those words into action.
Lawmakers can create penalties stiff enough that elected leaders and bureaucrats at all levels of government will think twice about withholding public information.
Without those incentives, it will continue to be hard to let the sunshine in here in North Carolina.
The Courier-Times, Roxboro
The following editorial — excerpted from a longer version — is in recognition of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government and freedom of information.