Dear Public Official:
We are writing on this bright occasion to invite you to join us in celebrating Sunshine Week.
The American Society of News Editors launched Sunshine Week in 2005 and conducts it in partnership with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It was created with the belief that open government is good government.
This is not a solemn memorial of some dead ideal, but rather a happy time of living out the duties inherent to everything it means to be a leader in America.
It should be as natural to your role in public service as the beat of your heart and the breath of your lungs. It is vital to upholding democracy and your own integrity as a public official.
But please do not think this is just an issue of the press. Open government is a cornerstone of democracy that empowers people to play an active role in their government. It is the people’s right to know. It should be practiced at all levels of government, from the office of the U.S. president to the local board of education.
In our own great state of Alabama, we have passed sunshine laws in regards to documents and meetings.
“Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute,” our open records act states.
“It is the policy of this state that the deliberative process of governmental bodies shall be open to the public during meetings,” our open meetings act states.
These acts governing freedom of information are just as legitimate as laws against robbery, assault and speeding. We expect you to obey them.
In your role as public servant, we urge you to champion both the letter and the spirit of the laws. Rather than looking for loopholes and excuses to close meetings and withhold documents, approach government with the attitude that the public’s business will be conducted in full transparency.
Please don’t fool yourself into believing you are protecting us by hiding away in secret. We can handle the truth.
If you cannot obey the sunshine laws, please don’t place your hand over your heart and pretend allegiance to our flag. Please don’t stand alongside our veterans and pretend to uphold what they fought so hard to protect.
When your peers intend to conduct business in secret — which they will at some point — have the courage to stand up for the people you serve.
Stand up for democracy. Open the door and let the sun shine in on every action you take.
Sunshine Week ends Saturday, but we encourage you to remember that open government is good government all year long.
The people you serve.
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