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Our View: Let sun shine on government

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

A state agency giving a Marengo man a year-long runaround to get a two-page report that is clearly public under FOIA.

A county health department withholding information that contradicts its McCullom Lake cancer cluster findings, not only from the public, but also from the board of health itself.

These stories have been reported by the Northwest Herald, and they are a few examples that illustrate how seriously we take our role as watchdog journalists as we advocate for the communities we serve.

With Sunshine Week running through Saturday, it is worth noting that neither of these stories – and various others we report throughout the year – would be possible without the Freedom of Information Act.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to “promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” Here in Illinois, it goes without saying that there is never a shortage of motivation for the public to keep government on its toes.

As important as it is for journalists to play a leading role in holding public officials accountable, community members should realize they also can access a treasure trove of public information.

The website www.sunshineweek.org lists multiple ways individuals and groups can seek transparency from elected officials and “demystify” public records by locating databases of useful information, much of which is available online.

Government officials do not need to take an adversarial posture when it comes to transparency.

By embracing laws about open meetings and records, they can engender trust with the public that will strengthen community-wide relationships and might just earn them the benefit of the doubt if an honest mistake arises.

Sometimes officials grumble when FOIA requests are submitted, unhappy about the time and effort it takes to comply. In too many cases, they look for excuses to why they do not need to adhere to them because they would prefer the public remain uninformed about how money is spent or why decisions are made.

But the momentary inconvenience of supplying public information to the news media or public must not trump the greater good. It is the law for those in power to share public records. Public officials need to know they are being watched or corruption may take root.

Let’s rededicate ourselves to making sure that does not happen on our watch.

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