Launched in 2005, Sunshine Week has grown into an enduring annual initiative to promote open government and push back against excessive official secrecy.
Citizens from across the country are now gearing up for this year's Sunshine Week – March 10-16, 2013 – to once again spark a nationwide discussion about the critical importance of access to public information.
You can help make Sunshine Week burn even brighter in 2013. There are endless ways to participate, regardless of whether you're part of a group or simply an individual who cares about freedom of information.
If you are in the world of journalism, you can highlight the importance of openness through stories, editorials, columns, cartoons or graphics.
If you are part of a civic group, you can organize local forums, sponsor essay contests or press elected officials to pass proclamations on the importance of open access.
If you are an educator, you can use Sunshine Week to teach your students about how government transparency improves our lives and makes our communities stronger.
If you are an elected official, you can pass a resolution supporting openness, introduce legislation improving public access or encourage training of government employees to ensure compliance with existing laws mandating open records and meetings.
If you are a private citizen, you can write a letter to the editor or spread the word to friends through social media.
Additional Sunshine Week Resources / Virginia
Virginia's Freedom of Information Act
2010 Sunshine Week resources (note, some links may have expired):
- Watching Richmond politics unfold in person or on the General Assembly’s Web site is complicated, but one man has made getting informed simpler Waldo Jaquith, the Albemarle County resident behind the 3-year-old legislative tracking Web site Richmond Sunlight (richmondsunlight.com). http://www2.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/local/article/by_tasha_kates/53588/ (NOTE: Jaquith is a VCOG board of directors member.)
- Waynesboro husband and wife recognized in nationwide FOI Heroes contest. http://sunshineweek.org/tabid/68/ArticleId/73/default.aspx
- Elected officials in cities and counties across Central Virginia routinely take advantage of a state law affording them the opportunity to discuss matters behind closed doors, away from public view. http://www2.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local/article/meeting_behind_closed_doors_can_cause_public_ire/25026/
- FOIA Council helps public with open government act http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/state_regional/article/SLAW15_20100314-220004/330410/
- If you want to track government spending, Virginia's open-records law protects your ability to follow the money -- before and after votes are counted. Across the state, local officials appear to be providing easy access to their municipal budgets, although some have to be reminded that proposed or draft documents, like approved ones, are public records subject to scrutiny by residents, said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.
- Virginia has more than 1.2 million students in its 1,860 public schools, and there is a lot of information about those schools if you know where to look. Your local school or school system is a good starting point. But one of the best sources for comprehensive information about all of the state's schools is the Virginia Department of Education and its Web site.
- The unincorporated town of Congress sits at the junction of state highways 71 and 89 in the middle of the Arizona desert, a no-stoplight kind of place if ever you saw one. It is so small, in fact, that the prickly pear cacti may very well outnumber the 1,700 or so souls who call Congress home. And so it is a rather unlikely setting for a bitter open government dispute that has drawn attention far beyond the gossip being swapped at the local cafe. What happened is this: The Congress Elementary School District, fed up with records requests from four women—two of whom have children in school—responded by suing them. "What it does on the ground is scare the hell out of everybody," Charles Davis, NFOIC director, said. "I can only imagine other requesters across the state will be like, 'Oh my God. We can get sued for making an FOI request?'"
- Taking advantage of technology and preemptively posting frequently requested information online could help agencies address new Freedom of Information Act queries and tackle backlogs, FOIA officials told lawmakers on Thursday. (The same is true for state and local governments, too.)
- Roanoke Times: Today, the start of Sunshine Week, we offer something different. Today, we commend citizens of the New River Valley who have taken advantage of the open government they have. http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/wb/239812
- Roanoke Times: When an agency releases a document, it may redact it. That's the fancy word for the practice of blacking out portions of a document, and it's something government officials abuse to great effect. Rather than demonstrate the power of redaction with some boring government document, we pulled an American classic off the shelf, one that most people read in school and are familiar with. http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/wb/239678
- Dan Radmacher: "Government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know." -- Original legislative preamble to West Virginia's Open Meetings Act, since amended. Compare that bold declaration to Virginia's far wimpier counterpart: "The affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy since at all times the public is to be the beneficiary of any action taken at any level of government." http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/radmacher/wb/239669
- Times-Dispatch: It is hard to write about Sunshine Week, an endeavor promoted primarily by the American Society of News Editors, without coming off as parochial and self-serving. We share some of those concerns And yet . . . http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/opinion/editorials/article/ED-SUNS14_20100312-204009/330043/
- Peggy Bellows: At the bottom of Thursday's front page was a piece of reporting brought to you courtesy of Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/opinion/commentary/article/NV-VIEW14_20100312-204009/330048/
- Michael Owens: I spent much of last summer sifting through criminal records and computer spreadsheets just to prove how an Abingdon magistrate falsified court documents so he could slip business to his bail bondsman father. I couldn't have even guessed at the file cabinets to rummage through had it not been for my FOIA request for Virginia Supreme Court records. http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/opinion/commentary/article/ED-OWENS14_20100312-204009/330041/
- News Virginian: Want to know what that supervisors are saying to each other in e-mails? Ask and you should receive. How about details on a project that seems to cost more each time a elected official mentions it? File a FOIA. Of course, some of our readers know precisely that of which we speak. We nominated Phil and Ellen Winter last month for the Sunshine Week Local Heroes Award. http://www2.newsvirginian.com/wnv/news/opinion/editorials/article/its_our_government/53600/
- News & Messenger: Every year there is a week when we are called to reflect on our duty to stand vigilant. We are reminded that our government is not an entity independent of us, but one made up of and answerable to us. That week is here; it's called Sunshine Week. http://www2.insidenova.com/isn/news/opinion/article/editorial_the_sun_is_shining_this_week/53880/
- Lawrence Spencer, Blacksburg town manager: Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act guarantees citizens and journalists the right to attend public meetings and obtain public records, with very limited exceptions. What’s amazing is that this wasn’t always the law; Virginia adopted its Freedom of Information Act in 1968. http://www.tidewaternews.com/news/2010/mar/13/open-government/
- Bill Hackworth, Roanoke city attorney: The Virginia Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful thing, but most citizens probably have no concept of how much it costs their local and state governments in time and taxpayers' funds to respond to all of the requests for records that they receive. To save money and time, be direct. http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/239673
- Carol Lindstrom, of Christiansburg" Learn your rights - and use them (Lindstrom won the Virginia Coalition for Open Government's 2009 Laurence E. Richardson award for individual citizen contributions to open government.) http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/239671
- News Leader: The most important duty of Americans is staying informed and involved. Attend public meetings. Ask why certain topics are in executive session, on the other side of a closed door from the public. Ask for documents, and learn to file FOIA requests if you aren't satisfied with the answers you receive. http://www.newsleader.com/article/20100316/OPINION01/3160311/1014/OPINION
- Roanoke Times: One-third of the federal government remains stubbornly in the dark and out of the view of most Americans: the judiciary.
- Old Dominion Watchdog blog: As I read my IRE newsletter this morning over breakfast, it reminded me that this week is Sunshine Week–when we celebrate or bemoan government transparency and accountability, or the lack thereof. In honor of the week, the nonprofit wiki Sunshine Review has ranked state, county, city and school district Web sites on how much information they contain and how easy it is to navigate them. What grade did Virginia’s state Web site receive? Alas, a C minus.
- Roanoke Times: Virginians escaped this year's General Assembly session without giving up much of their government access. It was not for lack of trying by lawmakers.
- Daily Progress: Sometimes, civic duty requires more than simply voting. Sometimes, citizens who step up to meet that challenge of “more” can become real civic heroes. Such is the case with a Waynesboro couple who dug out information showing that their city treasurer’s office was in disarray. Their legwork paved the way for real reform. They had another crucial assist: the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
- News & Advance: If they gave an Oscar to the locality whose governing body voted to go behind closed doors the most times during 2009 to conduct public business, the Amherst County Board of Supervisors would win it handily.
- Megan Rhyne: Even if the letter of the law is being followed, the public begins to suspect that there is more to the story when they are shut out; that there is something to hide; that they are viewed as problems to be worked around, rather than constituents to be served.
- Goochland Gazette: It’s that time of year again — time to celebrate Sunshine Week! Although its timing tends to coincide with the bluer skies and greener grass of spring, the climate is irrelevant to Sunshine Week’s mission: To cast a bright light on what our elected and appointed representatives are doing with our resources, and how those decisions impact our lives and livelihoods.
- News & Advance: Information is a powerful commodity, which helps explain why government seeks so often to curtail the public’s access to it.
- Powhatan Today: FOIA isn’t perfect. But there’s at least one really good reason you want him at your party: he keeps people honest. http://www.powhatantoday.com/index.php/opinion/article/foia-what-is-there-to-be-afraid-of/22260/
- Central Virginian: Appropriately, during this Sunshine Week, the new-ish administration of Louisa County demonstrated its commitment to opening the government to the people. At the March 22 board of supervisors meeting, the county conducted an alpha test of software to stream video of the meetings. Though the option they used didn't meet some of the county's needs, officials are interested in pursuing the initiative further. http://www.thecentralvirginian.com/news/view_sections.asp?idcategory=39&idarticle=3403
2009 Sunshine Week resources:
2008 Sunshine Week resources:
2007 Sunshine Week resources:
2006 Sunshine Week resources:
2005 Sunshine Week resources: