Sunshine Week article/editorial roundup

  • 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 (, spends his nights and weekends keeping up the aggregation site and giving people a place to discuss bills. (NOTE: Jaquith is a VCOG board of directors member.)
  • Waynesboro husband and wife recognized in nationwide FOI Heroes contest.
  • 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. City councils and county boards of supervisors in the Lynchburg area last year met in closed meetings an average of 51 percent of the time during regular meetings, according to an examination of public minutes by The News & Advance. Amherst County supervisors met behind closed doors at the highest rate in 2009, doing so 19 times out of two dozen regular meetings, or 79 percent of the time.
  • FOI council helps public with open government act
  • Roanoke Times: Most often when we write about open government, it is to rail against yet another attempt to withhold information from the public. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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. Frothy testimonials to the glory of a free press also ring hollow to a great many Americans today for whom the "Mainstream Media" -- MSM for short -- are objects of distrust: pompous, partisan, blinkered, and often so irredeemably biased that they cannot even see their own shortcomings. We share some of those concerns And yet . . .
  • 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. It was a story by David Ress explaining that state officials suppressed findings that a state mental hospital supplied essential services, because they had other plans for the facility. The reporting laid out important behind-the-scenes maneuvering that you would not have known about had it not been for the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Michael Owens: Chances are you've noticed it -- the words "Freedom of Information Act" tossed into front-page stories, probably one about a governor's Vegas trip with his mistress, or a police chief's lob ster dinner with his buddies, all on the public dime. You see, FOIA doesn't always deliver the jackpot reporters are looking for, but the records it opens to us often point the way to the truth. For example, 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.
  • 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. The Waynesboro couple sensed something wrong in the city Treasurer’s Office, requested and received dozens of pages in documents and found that the treasurer had been getting thumped in state audits. When word got out, the treasurer did, too, booted in the next election.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.

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