Sunshine Week- 2017 (March 12-18) It's Your Right to Know


Sunshine Week- 2017 (March 12-18) It's Your Right to Know

16 March 2017 at 7:16:13 AM

Somervell County Salon believes in the public's right to know what goes on with local government. To find out, Texas law has provided the Texas Public Information Act, which makes records from government available upon request to ALL Texas citizens, with some exceptions. FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) allows all United States citizens to ask for records at the national level. Every person has the right to keep tabs on what government is doing; since we all pay taxes, knowing how that money is being spent is critical to accountability. As the preamble to the Texas Public Information Act Says 

Sec. 552.001. POLICY; CONSTRUCTION. (a) Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy. (b) This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.

Some great articles from around the country in honor of Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week Celebrates Your Right to Know-USA Today

Now, more than ever, Americans are urged to recognize the importance of open government to a robust democracy. Access to meetings, minutes and records of our elected and appointed representatives — and to those officials themselves — is a key element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is not strictly for the benefit of the news media.

That is true whether the fight is for transparency from local governments or the White House. The Obama administration promised to be the most open ever, but it punished whistle-blowers harshly. In the Trump administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to travel without a press pool on his first trip to Asia.

In addition to ordinary citizens such as Rita Ward, access to government information helps citizen groups hold public officials accountable through firsthand observation of their actions. Access also enables historians to accurately describe past events and gives individuals critical information on public safety in the neighborhoods where they live.

.... This week and every week, take a moment to consider what your life would be like if government officials operated in total secrecy and restricted your access to information. Support organizations fighting against those in power who seek to weaken open government protections. Join with fellow citizens in seeking disclosure. When you want information from a police department, local government or school board, ask for it.

Sunshine Week: Open Government is Essential- The Detroit News

Public money should mean public knowledge. Taxpayer-funded bodies, to the extent that security and legal privacy can be maintained, should make known their operations to the general population.

The role of the investigative journalist is to make a cold, clear, accurate evaluation of these institutions, which were built to serve you and your family; information about the operations of these institutions is crucial for such an appraisal.

And while questions from outside sources are understandably uncomfortable for government and publicly funded bodies, the mere act of inquiry does not assume wrongdoing.

Questions are beneficial and actually necessary for the long-term integrity of public institutions, and therefore the public itself. 

Sunshine Week finds Trump backing off promises of transparency - News & Observer

For the public, the lesson in Sunshine Week is pretty simple, but profound: Beware the leader or agency in government that seeks to shield information that is clearly public information.

Never forget that such information belongs to the people, and accessibility to it shouldn’t depend on the philosophy of whatever individual or group is in charge on Pennsylvania Avenue. The concern is all the greater considering President Trump’s stance, for example, on his own tax returns, which he continues to shield despite historic precedent of openness set by his predecessors.

When public officials want to hide something, it tends to be because they have something to hide.

Freedom of Information During Sunshine Week

This Sunshine Week, take a minute to learn more. The open records laws are listed by the Reporter’s Committeee for Freedom of the Press. State groups are listed at the National Freedom of Information Coalition. Visit the Sunshine Week web site. Want to file a records request? Try Muckrock. Take a minute to thank the  American Society of News Editors and many other groups (from librarians to good government organizations) that make Sunshine Week possible.

Each spring Sunshine Week honors the March 16 birthday of James Madison, our fourth president, called “father of the Constitution” for his key role in writing and promoting the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. “I believe,” Madison wrote, “there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

What our founders are saying seems clear: We must watch over freedom if we wish to keep it. The same idea applies to open government. Keeping freedom fresh is up to you, your friends and your neighbors. Let’s face facts: Our right to vote isn’t worth much if we don’t know what’s really going on.

Sunshine Week Spotlights Open Government Spokesman

This week is Sunshine Week, which got its start in 2002 as an annual effort by civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools, newspapers and broadcast outlets to foster a discussion about the need for open government – especially the public’s access to government records. This year’s commemoration comes at a time when open government issues have moved front and center at the nation’s highest levels of government.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton faced severe criticism for her practice as secretary of state of conducting government businesses on a private email server. In addition to security concerns, this tactic was seen as a way to run around public records laws. Meanwhile, the administration of President Donald Trump has its own issues, whether it’s his questioning the accuracy of previous government job numbers, or his administration’s removal of climate change information from government websites, or calling the news media the “opposition party.”

Sunshine Week Important To All-Fergus Falls Journal

Although government and its officials tend to give special treatment and access to journalists, you as citizens have just as much right to access these records. If you don’t know whether a record is public or not, just ask for it. It is the responsibility of the government to respond with the exact statute if they deny you.  This makes it easy for you to look up the law.

E-mails of your mayor, a mugshot, video from a police dashcam, audio from a court hearing, the deed on your neighbor’s property and their water usage may all be public records.  Using your public records law, you can check out a health care provider. Just go to medical licensing board and request discipline reports on a doctor.  You can find out if a psychiatrist was ever disciplined for sexual misconduct, substance abuse or has a record of overdrugging children. You can find out if a doctor has done any wrong-side surgery or a dentist has improperly done an extraction which resulted in complications.


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