Government must be open so the public knows what’s being done in its name.
But efforts to limit or close access and information are bipartisan and ongoing.
That’s why Sunshine Week, March 12-18, is important. It raises awareness of the need for open meetings and open records – and the need to remain vigilant.
Candidates – Republicans and Democrats – promise to be open and transparent when they run for office. But once they are elected, many of them shift toward secrecy.
The Obama administration spent $36.2 million on legal costs in its final year in office defending its refusal to turn over federal records, Associated Press reported this week.
The Trump administration is already raising concerns about access to public records. Researchers and librarians are furiously downloading and archiving federal databases they fear could soon be taken down or obscured, McClatchy reported this week.
Open government also is a concern at the state and local level.
As in past years, there is a bill in the Legislature to allow local governments to publish legal notices – such as about mill levies, fund balances and delinquent taxes – only on their websites and not in newspapers of record, where the public is much more likely to see them.
The Sedgwick County Commission recently voted to publish legal notices in the Derby Weekly Informer, where few county residents will see them.
The Wichita school board may have violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act last month when it interviewed candidates for superintendent. The board declared itself in a private session that lasted more than a week, without providing notice of when it planned to gather.
Open meetings and open records can be a hassle for public officials. But they are necessary.
Democracy requires sunshine.