Transparency in government has always been important.
But these days, in Illinois, it’s vital. The state’s fiscal problems have filtered down to local governments.
Area and state elected officials are making tough decisions on what programs and services to fund, and which to eliminate.
There might be no more important time for the state’s citizens to be informed about the decision-making process at all levels of government so they might participate by monitoring official actions and offering comment and feedback to public officials.
Sunday starts a week where we celebrate that we live in a country where being able to freely ask for information about what our governments are doing is a right.
Next week is Sunshine Week, a national initiative that aims to educate the public about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
We as journalists are committed to playing a role in holding public officials accountable.
It’s why we attend city council and school board meetings. It’s why we file Freedom of Information requests for documents about how taxpayer money is spent or that we believe will detail the inner workings of local governments.
But we cannot be alone in making sure the sun is bright when it’s over governments. Local residents can access many public documents.
They can ask questions and demand answers from elected officials.
We also hope elected officials are partners committed to transparency. There is no need to take an adversarial position when it comes to openness – indeed, the public likely would embrace a politician who is consistently transparent.
Officials can embrace laws about open meetings and records.
They can not grumble when FOIA requests are submitted, and realize the effort and time it takes to comply is worth the public trust doing so builds.
We often need to force open the curtains of governmental entities in order to let in the light so we can see what is rightfully ours to view.
We hope to one day be able to realistically envision a time when we don’t need a special week to remind citizens and elected officials that open government is a right in our country.
We aren’t there yet. But together, we can commit to letting the sunshine in, and hope for a brighter future.