Sunshine Week is a yearly opportunity to promote open government. Our Bill of Rights recognizes an informed public as crucial for democratic government, mentioning freedom of the press within the first 26 words. But good government actively supports an engaged public, as well as respecting an independent press. Transparent processes, open meetings, and accessible public records protect society’s basic right to know what their government is up to.
Sunshine Week provides a reminder to check up on government at all levels, consider what’s working and what can be better.
Being a densely populated city benefits Lakewood, in this regard: it’s a short trip to attend meetings and look in on elected officials personally. Councilman Dan O’Malley’s recent legislation to publish minutes of every public meeting online is commendable, as well, and I heartily applaud it. But our city can improve in many areas. Lakewood’s Democratic Club includes a permanent, standing Sunshine Committee, and our publicly paid officials could benefit by this example. As a city councilman, I will be an ongoing advocate for the ideals of Sunshine Week.
Let’s take the lead on government transparency:
- Our city should implement timely online publishing of meeting minutes—and complement it with consistently publishing meeting agendas online, ahead of time.
- Public officials should responsibly disclose conflicts of interest, and recuse themselves from all votes where they face a conflict.
- We should answer records requests using a broader definition of valid public records, and eliminate months-long delays before providing responses.
- Given the holes which public-private partnerships can leave in the public record, we should make transparency a condition of any public-private partnership which Lakewood enters.
- We should extend the city’s record-keeping period, which is now just two years for some records, including many electronic documents which we can preserve for pennies.
- Public property should be disposed of, and public money spent, through careful open processes. Public officials should never conceal or suppress proposals, which is not only exclusionary, but places our city in potentially costly legal jeopardy.
Even amid setbacks for transparency, our national government is subject to intense 24/7 scrutiny and renewed public engagement. We should all help sustain that. But we should also support transparency from the local level, and make our community a model for better practices. Learn more about Sunshine Week and how to join in at: sunshineweek.rcfp.org