Perhaps never before has the week’s news so aptly underscored the importance of public access to open government.
That access — by journalists and by citizens — is exactly what we commemorate with Sunshine Week, running from March 15 to 21.
Organized by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Sunshine Week promotes government transparency through access to public information. Laws mandating such transparency are essential for democracy.
Plenty of public officials adhere to the letter and the spirit of the law regarding public access to information. Unfortunately, there are others who, despite being elected or appointed to serve the public, go to great lengths to avoid having public information disclosed. In other cases, it takes some digging to find the thinking behind government decisions.
Telegraph Herald reporters have used Freedom of Information Act requests many times in the past year to uncover such information.
Those FOIA requests shed light on issues such as:
- Dubuque’s mayor asking Dubuque County’s county attorney to investigate whether a then-City Council member should be removed from office or criminally charged for sharing materials from closed-meeting discussions.
- Dubuque County supervisors handing over the administration of a low-income assistance program to a local nonprofit.
- The circumstances surrounding the death of Alex E. Billmeyer, of Dubuque, in May while in law enforcement custody in Dubuque.
- The East Dubuque, Ill., mayor’s role in a fight outside a bar on Sinsinawa Avenue.
- Nighttime criminal incidents in downtown East Dubuque and their timing in relation to closing times for the nearby taverns.
During Sunshine Week, we recognize the vital tool we have in our country’s open records and open meetings protections.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks and days, it is during crisis that accurate and timely information from government officials is vital to citizens.
In a public health crisis such as we are seeing now, prompt and accurate information is critical as we cope with the disruption of our education system, our workplaces, our global economy and our everyday life.
Through transparency comes accountability, and that has scarcely been as important as it is today.