It never goes away — the attempt by some government officials to hide public matters from the public.
National Sunshine Week is March 10-16. It’s an annual event and focuses on open government, and the importance of a transparent government at all levels. The week is held in March to coincide with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on the 16th.
Why do some public officials on all levels of government fear and foster secrecy in government? Experience has revealed to many political observers that public officials who embrace and foster secrecy fear the positions they take may harm their images and their future careers in government. In other words, it’s their personal well-being in politics that generates fear about keeping some matters from the public.
There are valid reasons for keeping some matters under wraps for a period so as not to jeopardize an issue that is in the public’s interest. That’s why the Missouri Sunshine Law provides that certain matters may be discussed in private or in executive sessions, such as legal matters, leasing or buying property by the public body and personnel matters. Of course, some of those subjects can become public information at the appropriate time, such as when a conclusion is reached in legal or real estate matters.
Openness in government pertains not only to journalists and media companies, but to the general public, which has a right to attend public meetings and is entitled to public records, as well as the press. Guidelines must be followed.
One of the results when public entities operate in secret, legally or illegally, is that the withholding of information leads to all kinds of rumors.
In the long run, as much openness in government as is possible is in the best interests of the general welfare of the public and the public officials, who must keep uppermost in their minds that the public has a right to know.
The media often is called the watchdog of public bodies, and there are other groups that are watchful also.
To be successful, public bodies and officials must earn the trust of the people they serve. One way that can be accomplished is for the public bodies and the individual officials to promote openness in their operations.
Sunshine Week is a reminder of the responsibility for transparency by all public officials. Openness has a byproduct — accountability.