This week marks the annual celebration of Sunshine Laws across the U.S., a measure where we can all gather in knowing that there are rules that allow us to know what is going on in our government, even when they do their best to hide something.
I have been at the Tribune for 10 years come May, and have spent another five in the industry, and there is no doubt in my mind that this tool is very important to what newspapers try to accomplish in covering their communities. It is not always glorious and often not black and white — as continues to be the case regarding what is public records in the spirit of the Georgia Open Records Act and what officials in Social Circle deem relevant as far as their decision to part ways with their longtime city manager.
Oftentimes I find myself the only nongovernment official in the room when county or city leaders go behind closed doors for an executive session. And I am always there when they come back, because part of the Open Records Act includes set rules for why government leaders can go behind closed doors and how business is conducted — and I like to just make sure things are as they should.
Though at the core of what we do as journalists, this 10th year of celebrating Sunshine Week is also about the fact it is the people who have a right to know what their government is doing and why. The Walton Tribune, or any of the new online media outlets or any other news agency, are not the sole beneficiaries of these laws. You, the people, can use these laws to become more enlightened and active in the government that spends your tax dollars. The spirit of the law is to allow all to be better informed.
Right now the battle rages as media outlets want to know where the medicine comes that is used in the lethal injections used in Georgia that were recently deemed “cloudy” but no other information was provided in what ended up being a delay in executions in this state. And as recently as last week there was an effort to remove public notices governments are required to place in the legal organ of their county under the guise of it saving taxpayers money — to the tune of less than $1,000 on average across the state.
And there will continue to be attacks on your right to know. And newspapers and those who hold the Sunshine Laws in the highest regard will continue to defend that right.