It’s Sunshine Week, the time every year when newspapers across America call attention to the importance of open meetings and public records laws in our free society.
These state and federal laws aren’t for newspaper, television and online reporters only. Everyone benefits from government openness, and transparency laws make it possible for you to know what goes on with your government.
These laws keep the public’s business public. They bring accountability to government. They encourage honesty and discourage corruption.
Because of North Carolina’s open meetings law, you can go to any county commissioners meeting, city council meeting, school board meeting or others to hear elected officials discuss issues of importance to you. You can see what votes are taken and how each elected official votes.
Because of the state’s public records law, you can find out who police arrest and on what charges. You can find out about the cleanliness of your favorite restaurant. You can research your family history through birth, marriage and death certificates, and through property transfer records.
The Freedom of Information Act ensures that you can secure reports and other documents from federal agencies.
Want to know if the FBI has a record on you? Make an FOI request and you will find out.
As we have written many times on this page, secrecy breeds mistrust and leads to speculation which too often is off-base and far worse that reality. Openness fosters trust and dissemination of the truth, leading to better understanding so that government and citizens are more apt to work in partnership for the good of a community, a state or a nation.
As we mark Sunshine Week this year, there’s a dangerous assault on transparency and your right to know about your government.
In the North Carolina legislature, as in legislatures across America, lawmakers are attempting to draw the curtain on your access to gun permit records.
Doing so would be a horrible mistake. It would mean that government – law enforcement, for example – would gather information about citizens and keep it secret.
Why should you care?
Suppose you have a bad relationship with a hot-headed neighbor. Before you walk next door to approach him about a problem, would you want to know whether he owns a gun?
If your child goes to play at a friend’s house, would you want to know whether someone in that house has a permit to own a gun?
What makes it OK for government to know where the guns are and not you?
Eliminating from public access the information that government gathers on citizens sets a dangerous precedent. Today the holders of gun permits. What will be kept secret from the public tomorrow? What other information will government gather and keep from you?
North Carolina’s transparency laws have served the public well since their inception. To strip them is to trust government more than the public and to hand over more power to government.
In this country, the people ARE the government. Public access to information is the best way to limit government power and safeguard the freedoms enjoyed by Americans.
During Sunshine Week, we encourage you to stay informed by attending government meetings, tapping into public information and supporting efforts to keep the public’s business public.
The best government is an open government. Join the Havelock News in keeping the sun shining on the public’s business.