Tom Blount: Exercise your right to know!

Feb. 24, 2013 @ 03:44 AM

“Let the sunshine in!”
If you are 50 or older, that prompt already may have you humming the tune to “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which peaked at No. 1 for six weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart in March of 1969. Wikipedia calls it “a medley of two songs written for the 1967 musical ‘Hair’ by James Rado and Gerome Ragni (lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music), released as a single [44 years ago] by The 5th Dimension.”
Helping to let the sun shine in (on government records) is important all year long but, in just two weeks (March 10-16), it gets special attention across the nation. Sunshine Week coincides with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on March 16. With an inaugural grant from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has continued to support the effort, Sunshine Week was launched by the American Society of News Editors (of which I was a member for a quarter century) in March 2005.
Even though ASNE and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are serving as coordinators – with continued support from the Knight Foundation and from Bloomberg News this year – you, too, can/should be part of Sunshine Week. It has expanded to include participation from libraries, nonprofits, schools, civic groups and other participants, in addition to hundreds of media organizations, to engage public discussion on the importance of open government through news and feature articles and opinion columns; special web pages and blogs; infographics; editorial cartoons; public service advertising; public seminars and forums.
The North Carolina Open Government Coalition is uniting organizations interested in ensuring and enhancing the public’s access to government activity, records and meetings. The nonpartisan coalition will educate people about your rights and support your efforts to gain access, and advocate the principles and benefits of open government. The Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and N.C. State University Student Media invite you to Sunshine Day from noon to 4 p.m. Monday, March 11, at McKimmon Center on the N.C. State University campus (1101 Gorman St., Raleigh). Sponsoring groups encourage citizens, journalists, government employees, librarians, attorneys, public officials, students – anyone and everyone – to attend.    New open government initiatives will be introduced. Pre-registration is available online at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/9LMZ8BM.
Meanwhile, Cary will provide educational opportunities for staff and elected and appointed officials during Sunshine Week to ensure everyone who carries out business on behalf of the town understands the importance of the “sunshine” laws. Cary’s website, since 1997, has been putting council meeting materials on the web for everyone and, today, it boasts more than 55,000 files of “public records.”
Transparency is a major key to ensuring that government of the people, by the people, for the people, (as Abraham Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg Address 150 years ago) shall not perish from the earth. The best way to achieve that is for you to exercise your rights specified in N.C. General Statute § 132. Citizen Media Law Project explains that “You are entitled to inspect and copy records of ‘public agencies’ under the Public Records law. The term ‘public agency’ is defined broadly and applies to any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. This includes every public office, public officer, institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority, or unit of the state government or a subdivision of government.” [The Public Records law does not apply to the North Carolina state Legislature or to the state courts – almost everything else is fair game.]
You can help let the sun shine in here! Hum the tune, look up records!

Tom Blount retired as editor of The High Point Enterprise in 2012.