Sunshine exposes the truth in public records

As spring approaches each year, young journalists minds — and even those older ones — turn to one thing: accessing public records from government agencies.

Every March comes a time that newspapers celebrate: Sunshine Week. But for all purposes, journalists practice and spread some sunlight every day of the year on records some would like to see remain hidden in the dark. We ask that you do the same.

The term “Sunshine” comes from exposing government actions to the light of day so all can see them. Public records, which are available with only a few restrictions, are open to everyone, whether or not you’re a journalist. To go even further, people don’t have to give a reason for wanting to see public records because they belong to the people. People pay for government action with their tax dollars, so the records of those actions are the property of the people.

“So why should I care about seeing public records,” you may ask? Well, that question requires a lengthy answer that I am going to keep as short as I can. Maintaining and accessing public records are essential to protecting life. Evidence of local, state and federal government actions is almost always made available to the public upon request. Such information includes real estate sales records, police arrests and reported incidents, court results, decisions by city councils and county commissioners, disaster records, the list goes on.

The unfortunate thing is that many times the people within a bureaucracy attempt to control public records as if they are personal and not public property. What happens then is that the public is denied access to those documents and have to fight even harder to get their hands on them, which again is their right.

We encourage, along with the American Society of News Editors, people from all walks of life to get involved to ensure that free access to public records remains free.

Civic groups throughout Wayne County and the reach of this newspaper can organize local forums, sponsor essay contests or press elected officials to pass proclamations on the importance of open access.

Teachers and school officials can teach students about how government transparency improves lives and makes communities stronger.

Elected officials on all levels — from city councils to the halls of Congress — can pass resolutions supporting openness, introduce legislation improving public access or encourage training of government employees to ensure compliance with existing open records laws.

And anyone can write letters to the News-Argus or spread the word to friends through social media about the importance of access to public records.

The News-Argus stands ready to assist anyone who finds it difficult to get public records access, whether it be due to inexperience or bureaucratic blockades. Drop a line to the newspaper anytime to news@newsargus.com. Together, we can expose all government actions to the light of bright sunshine.