You have a right to know:
• What salaries are being paid to county government employees, school administrators and city staff;
• If there is a paroled sex offender living on your street or near the school your son or daughter attends;
• Who is giving what politician money and how much;
• How board members vote, even on paper ballot, for issues;
• Who is committing crimes and what sort;
• If your governing officials are taking trips and how much they cost;
• When any government body takes a vote — even a poll — out of the earshot of the public it serves.
And the list goes on.
That right, even if the citizenry doesn’t always wish to flex that particular powerful muscle, is there and available any time anyone wishes to use it.
It should be a comfort to know that our laws protect us in such a way and offer us such a powerful insight into the way our government is run and the manner in which the citizens’ business is being conducted, whether it’s at the local, state or national level.
Those rights are given to us by the very powerful Freedom of Information Act and through such laws as the N.C Open Meetings Law, which govern openness and access to governmental meetings.
While it’s pretty apparent that journalists can be found complaining when a door is closed to a public meeting or access to documents are denied, surveys have shown that you, the public, are concerned, too, particularly when it directly impacts something you want to know.
Isn’t it good, then, that the FOIA is there to help us gain the access we need?
This week, designated as Sunshine Week, is designed to draw attention to the FOIA and other laws that help shed light on govermental actions, and educate the public — and in many cases goverment officials — to the right of all citizens to know what government is doing, and how and why it’s doing it.
It is our intent to always raise awareness, to support open government and to ensure that everyone knows we are here to serve the public, helping them gain the access they need, and gaining access for them, reporting on information they should be armed with as they make decisions about their communities, their state and their nation.
As Americans, we believe strongly in our freedoms, and as a people are known for our openness. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with our leaders. They sometimes like to fall back on attempts to close the door to meetings, shut away documents and take the “mum’s the word” approach when responding to probing questions that will shed light on important aspects of how taxpayer money is spent, and how elected officials are taking care of the public’s business.
It is, after all, your business. And you have a right to details about it.