Quit closing the blinds – let the sun shine in (on open government)

We are indeed a nation of dissenters.
It’s ingrained in our national identity from the earliest days when our forefathers dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest a tax; to telling those who attempt to trample our rights, “Don’t Tread on Me”; to the right to stand at our windows and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
(That’s a famous line from the movie, Network, by the way. Although, now you may get a noise violation citation if you try it.)
There’s something in us, as Americans, that doesn’t like people telling us what to do, and we have a healthy share in questioning authority.
Even when we are divided amongst ourselves we are united in the innate belief that we have the right to question, to say, “What the heck is going on?”
So, while we celebrate many holidays and commemorate many of our triumphs and tragedies, there is one week that seemingly goes unnoticed every year.
And that’s a damn shame because it’s at the foundation of our democracy: The right to question our leaders and hear, in an open forum, what decisions they are making on our behalf.
This is Sunshine Week, the perennially unnoticed week when we celebrate our questioning natures and reaffirm our belief in the importance of open government and access to information.
Sunshine Week is a national initiative led by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.
It was established in March 2005 and occurs each year in mid-March, coinciding with James Madison’s birthday (our fourth president and the guy who drafted – maybe not alone but he certainly took a significant lead in doing so – the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) and National Freedom of Information Day on the 16th.
Before any of you think, “Oh, there’s some liberal media agenda at work here,” that’s not the case. Sunshine Week is a non-partisan effort at the local, state and federal levels.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a Sunshine Week t-shirt. Or bobblehead. Or novelty mug. If it’s not marketable it must not be important, right?
We should all be concerned about open government and support our tools to insure it: the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act.
Now, here in Orion it may not seem as much of an issue as it is on the state or national level. And here in Orion we may not go so far as to toss our craft beers into Lake Sixteen to protest (I know some of you right now are crossing yourselves and saying “God Forbid”), or stage a coup and try to topple Orion Twp. Hall (really, what would be the point – they let you walk right in).
Besides, hopefully we’re much more civil than that now, and I’ve never had a problem getting information from Orion Twp., the Village of Lake Orion or Lake Orion schools. They’re actually pretty open with their information. If governments and schools had had websites like they do now back when I first started reporting, I never would have had to file a FOIA.
Perhaps it may seem a little naïve, but I still believe in the ideology of the press and its role in keeping a free society informed; that a newsman’s purpose is to report what is and let the people decide on what should be. To be the first rough draft of history.
And you won’t read anything from me on a regular basis harping on about the nobility of the press: too many of them are blowhards.
Michigan’s current FOIA law, which allows the public to access documents from public bodies, specifically exempts the governor. A 1986 Attorney General’s opinion exempts state legislators.
This is just wrong.
Now, a non-partisan effort in our state legislature is trying to overturn that, thankfully. About time.
So, what does this mean for the average citizen?
Get involved. Tell your elected officials that you want transparent government – and if you don’t want to go to the trouble of getting the information, then tell them you want to make sure that the press can access the information and share it with you.
And before you think this is just a (long) rant, consider this: Michigan ranked dead last – 50th – in the nation in a 2015 investigation by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity.
An F-grade in public access to information, an F in executive, legislative and judicial accountability, an F in lobbying disclosure, an F in state pension fund management, an F in ethics enforcement agencies.
And that’s just the good stuff.
For more visit: www.publicintegrity.org, http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org, and
https://michiganpress.org.

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