This is Sunshine Week. It’s a national observance by the media to point to the importance of openness in government at all levels. This is the 40th anniversary of Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
Experience has proven that it is a never-ending battle to uphold Missouri’s Sunshine Law since there is a constant turnover in faces who represent us in government at the local, state and federal levels. It’s an educational more so than a legal battle that must be waged, usually, because of our ever-changing officials. Sunshine Week is one of the attacks in the battle.
Senate Bill 1 was passed in 1973. It created an Open Meetings and Open Records Law that put Missouri at the forefront of the national movement to open meetings and records.
The Missourian for years has been particularly concerned about public boards of taxing districts in Franklin County that have little or no oversight by the media because of the large number of them. Franklin County has more than 50 taxing entities. Their meetings, as far as we know, are open to the public, but few citizens ever attend. The larger entities, such as school boards, boards of aldermen and city councils, generally are more open, but we know violations occur especially concerning “meetings outside of the regularly scheduled sessions.”
For many years, we urged sessions to educate newly elected officials about the Sunshine Law. Gov. Jay Nixon, when he was attorney general, did hold these educational sessions. A program such as this needs to be conducted by the present attorney general.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the U.S. government, led by the Pentagon and CIA, censored or withheld for reasons of national security the files that the public requested last year under the Freedom of Information Act more often than at any time since Barack Obama took office, according to the AP analysis.
Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and who later became president in 1801, served as our envoy to France in the 1780s. Jon Meacham wrote the latest book on Jefferson. It was published in 2012. The title is “Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power.” Historians have called it the best single-volume biography ever written on Jefferson. In it, in one of Jefferson’s many letters, are words written by Jefferson while in France.
Meacham wrote, “There is no question that Jefferson’s experience in France gave his politics a more democratic cast than they had when he left America for Paris. Jefferson wrote:
“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them . . .”
One of the most educated and intellectual presidents in America’s history, Jefferson realized the importance of newspapers in keeping people informed about government. To do that we need transparency to government. Sunshine Laws are needed to ensure that and they should be obeyed and enforced to bring openness to government.