Sunshine Week 2008 stories and editorials

RTD: Profiles in opening Virginia government (Waldo Jaquith, Leigh Purdum, Henrico County Supervisors)

The News Virginian: When Middlebrook, Va. farmer Betty Jo Hamilton first started hearing rumors in 2006 about a massive new industrial development planned for Augusta County, she knew her rights -- and she knew how to exercise them. "If you know what questions to ask, you can sometimes figure out what’s going on," she said. Hamilton was certain such a large-scale project -- whatever it might be -- would involve a significant paper trail, and because of the Freedom of Information Act, she had a legal right to demand access to it.

USAToday: Those supposedly private messages that public officials dash off on their government cellphones to friends and colleagues aren't necessarily private after all.

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun: Government information as wide-ranging as the names of people who grow watermelons or olives, tax returns, and the location of endangered plants and large caves is shielded from Americans under at least 140 provisions scattered throughout federal law. Thousands of people who request government information under the Freedom of Information Act are turned away each year under nine exemptions that allow the government to veil such things as law enforcement records, information and data about wells, and trade secrets.

The News Virginian: Nearly nine in 10 Americans say it’s important to know presidential and congressional candidates’ positions on open government, but three out of four view the federal government as secretive, according to a survey released Sunday.

Washington Examiner: Despite ordering improvements more than two years ago, President Bush has barely made a dent in the huge backlog of unanswered requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

RTD: Governments limit accessibility of e-mails Sunshine Week emphasizes the importance of open government and freedom of information.

RTD: FOIA exemptions

Washington Examiner: At a time of continued government secrecy, the news media should press the presidential candidates on whether their administration would enforce "the spirit as well as the letter of the law" protecting the public's right to know, Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley said Tuesday.

Bristol Herald Courier: Sunday kicked off Sunshine Week across the United States. It’s an annual effort to educate the public about the need for open government and freedom of information. In honor of the fourth annual event, the Bristol Herald Courier, and News Channel 11 will work to stress the importance of open government. The centerpiece of that effort will be Phase II of our online salaries project.

Raleigh News & Observer: Poll finds support for less secrecy / A majority of statewide political candidates say government agencies that illegally withhold public records should have to pay the legal fees of those who sue to get records, a new survey shows

Maria Everett (FOI Advisory Council executive director): Striking a balance is not easy

Megan Rhyne (VCOG associate director): FOIA proves that one's support of or opposition to open government principles has nothing to do with whether there is an R or a D next to one's name. FOIA is nonpartisan, an equal-opportunity pet cause or whipping boy, depending on the situation.

Olga Hernandez (League of Women Voters): Virginia sunshine is beautiful, but it doesn't reach every corner of Capitol Square. Energy is needed to get our General Assembly operating entirely in a transparent light. Virginians pride ourselves on having many high-tech companies within our borders, so we should do business using technology. We also want to see our elected representatives in action, and technology can help. The Virginia Senate broadcasts live, on streaming video via the Internet. Yet only 200 Internet links are available to the public. Considering our population of more than 7 million, the number of links for public access should be increased. The House of Delegates should also allow broadcast of its proceedings. A better solution would be full live cable coverage of both chambers with video repeats. Many local governments have cable channels to similar programming.

Jennifer Perkins (VCOG executive director): Why FOIA matters.

Roanoke Times editorial: Every day, citizens from all walks of life use provisions of what is called FOIA (pronounced foy-ah) to look at records from their governments. If you've ever logged onto government-hosted Web sites and looked at property assessments, court cases, meeting minutes, proposed legislation, budgets, filings about utility rate increases, you've benefited from the protections afforded Virginians under their right-to-know law.

Potomac News: This week, we will be running a series of editorials about the impact that the free flow of information has on you. In a representative democracy, information is everything. If the public does not have what it needs to make educated decisions at the polls, then there can be no democracy.

Potomac News: One of the Prince William County school system’s main budget complaints in this and past years has been that teacher’s salaries are not competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. In an effort to report thoroughly and to provide taxpayers with the tools they need to evaluate this claim, we posted a database of salaries online.... Many people have commented favorably while many others believe our actions are irresponsible and an invasion of privacy.

News Leader: One of the most frustrating aspects of fighting for more open government is the topic's lack of sex appeal. It's simply boring. To most people, it simply doesn't matter. That is, until you need something, until the fact that Virginia's Freedom of Information law shields the facts that are important to you.

Roanoke Times sunshine-week editorial
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USAToday: When candidates are seeking your vote, they can be counted on to mouth civics-book pieties about the public's right to know what's going on in government. They promise to hold meetings in the open, make government records readily available and generally end excessive secrecy. The three leading contenders for the presidency are no exception.

Washington Examiner: Sunshine Week -- sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation -- started Monday and continues through the weekend with events celebrating the public’s right to know and the importance of freedom of information in government. A main feature of Sunshine Week 2008 is a survey of presidential candidates on their attitudes toward open government issues. Coincidentally, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s responses were featured Monday on the Sunshine Week Web site. Clinton told the Sunshine Week survey that she believes "in an open, transparent government that is accountable to the people. Excessive government secrecy harms democratic governance and can weaken our system of checks and balances by shielding officials from oversight and inviting misconduct or error." Her first step should be clearing the path for journalists, academics and other researchers seeking access to the millions of key Clinton administration documents hidden in the Clinton presidential library.

Roanoke Times editorial: Sunshine Week, the special time of year when we reflect on the importance of open government for a free society, begins today. During the last 12 months, lawmakers great and small sought new ways to prevent Americans from knowing what government does in their name.

Potomac News: Taxpayer-funded salaries are public information and the people have the right to see what anybody who works for the government makes.