It’s a great week for the sun to be shining in Alabama. This week, the Jackson County Sentinel and newspapers across the nation are celebrating Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know.
Alabama’s laws to regulate open meetings and records are all about your right to have access to your government and your right to know what your government is doing.
Ideally, the state’s sunshine laws would operate under the premise that everything our government does is open to the public. But they don’t. In fact, over the years, some of the openness originally created by the laws has fallen into the shadows.
It happens slowly, and it all arises from so-called good intentions.
For example, we all fear another terrorist attack like Sept. 11. A bureaucrat says the public shouldn’t have access to an assortment of documents on the grounds of “national security.” A measure of sunshine disappears.
Or, the school board fusses because a newspaper reporter wants to find out about disciplinary action taken against a school official. School officials think you should trust the school system to do the right thing. They shouldn’t have to tell you what they did because, after all, they know how to run their schools and the reporter is just stirring up trouble. More darkness falls.
But what if a school official overlooks a volunteer’s criminal background check that shows criminal activity, and your child becomes the perpetrator’s next victim? What if the school didn’t have to release the background check and no one has to explain how the person slipped through the system and victimized your child?
Do you feel OK about losing so much sunshine now?
We need to stop and ask ourselves: Are exceptions to the open meetings law and open records laws necessary or just convenient?
Secrets give the person who is keeping them a lot of power.
Has an elected official ever told you: “If you only knew what I know, you’d understand.” Our elected officials should never say that. They should be telling us what is going on in our community — where we live, raise our children and pay taxes.
We deserve to know.
Sunshine Week is all about remembering that we are all watchdogs of our government and the people we have elected to do our work.
Open government is good government.