2017-03-15 / Obituaries

Sunshine Week more important than ever

Among other things, this week is Sunshine Week. You wouldn’t know it by the big snowfall.

Founded in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week promotes open government and public access to information.

Keeping public records open has long been a top priority for newspapers and others in the journalism business. Those records – everything from property deeds to county budgets to expense reports for public officials – contain in them much of the daily business of government. You can see who sold property to whom, track voter turnout in a single precinct, watch how tax dollars are spent, monitor what types of crimes are on the rise and so on.

Promoting open government is also a priority for those interested in a functioning democracy. Laws demand that elected officials do the public’s business out in the open, where the public can see it being done. Politicians complain that laws requiring open meetings, regular agendas and public access slow them down. That’s true, at times, and thank goodness for that.

Just last week, on the floor of the West Virginia Senate, one elected official made a point to ask repeatedly if agendas for each of the Senate’s committee meetings had been posted where he and the public could see them.

In a 60-day legislative session where a major committee like the Judiciary could meet twice each day, his request hit the mark. Those committee meetings are where the nitty-gritty of laws are worked out before a vote happens on the floor of the Senate or House of Delegates. Regular people who are interested in those laws should know when and where that business happens. Lobbyists for special interest groups certainly know.

The same applies here in Morgan County. Last minute changes to agendas, meeting schedules and locations for public meetings are simply not in the public’s interest.

That’s why West Virginia’s laws require a public body to post their agenda ahead of a meeting in a public place where regular people can see what’s being decided. And that’s why the law says commissioners shouldn’t gather to discuss county business out of public view.

When citizens elect individuals to carry out the public business, they do not hand over their power to be part of the decision making process. In fact, the more citizens watch, research and participate in the public’s business the better. It is THEIR business, after all.

The Washington Post’s slogan – now prominently displayed on its many news products – could be the catch phrase of Sunshine Week: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

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