Time to let the sunshine in

Published 10:59 pm Saturday, March 12, 2016

This is a special week for journalists and anyone who loves a healthy democracy. It’s Sunshine Week, a time set aside to promote public access to government information.

Being able to have access to public information is a major factor in our country’s freedom of speech and press. The Selma Times-Journal will do its own small part to support the week through a series of stories highlighting the importance of open records and meetings.

On Tuesday, we will talk about how key access to this information is in our reporting and discuss important stories that couldn’t have been written without that availability.

The next day we will look at public records and what a member of the general public would need to know to request information. This story will explore what types of information are available and provide a step-by-step guide to requesting information from local and state municipalities. We will also examine at any restrictions on records, like research fees, and advise you what to do if a request for a public record is denied.

On Thursday, open meetings will be explored in-depth. We will break down the state’s open meeting act and discuss recent changes that help strengthen the law. We will also outline the limited reasons why a governing body can go into executive session.

After that, we will cover campaign contributions. This is an important story given the local, state and national elections this year. We believe every citizen has the right to know who is donating to candidates and how much. Though we plan to cover campaign contributions in this summer’s municipal elections, a story in Friday’s paper will provide steps on how to gather this information yourself.

Finally, on Saturday, we will publish an in-depth story of community interest that was written with information gathered from a Freedom of Information Act request.

In addition to the news stories, there will also be a series of columns, editorial cartoons and public service announcements that will publish each day this week.

It’s always a good thing for a healthy dose of sunshine to shine upon government. It’s our hope that our staff and the community will learn more about this week about public records and meetings and will be more empowered come Saturday.