Sunshine Week spotlights transparency, public’s right to know
March 16, 2017
Craig — Government both represents and is funded by citizens and taxpayers, which is why government records belong to the public.
This week is national Sunshine Week — named not for the sunny weather Northwest Coloradans have been enjoying this week, but for the public's right to know what happens within the government bodies that work on behalf of citizens.
"It's to be sure we can follow what government is doing with your money," said Jerry Raehal, CEO of Colorado Press Association. "If we don't have sunshine laws, we're running rough-shod and there's no accountability as to what government is doing."
In light of the current political climate and recent waves of distrust in the news media, educating people about sunshine laws is more important than ever, said Jeff Roberts, executive director for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
"Records are a great way to combat alternative facts. If you want to get closer to the truth, especially about what your government is up to or some institution is up to, see what the records say, don't just rely on what people say about it," Roberts said. "They're not just for journalists, they're for anybody."
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The Colorado Sunshine Law, also known as Open Meetings Law, sets ground rules to ensure state and local governing bodies — from school boards to city councils — maintain transparency in their meeting practices and procedures.
"The intent of the Open Meetings Law is to afford public access to a broad range of meetings at which public business is considered," as stated in Colorado Revised Statute 24-6-401.
Closely related is the Colorado Open Records Act, which ensures public records are accessible to members of the public. This includes documentation of public funds received or spent, and essentially all writings relating to the work of government bodies with some exceptions.
CORA was passed in 1969 and Open Meetings Law in 1972, according to the National Freedom of Information Coalition, but a bill is headed for debate on the Colorado Senate floor this month that would modernize CORA for the digital age.
Government agencies can currently leave citizens to sift through cumbersome piles of paper or PDF documents to find the information they're looking for, even when that information is stored digitally. Senate Bill 40 would require them instead to provide original digital formats when available, such as searchable electronic databases or spreadsheets.
Proponents of the bill are currently fighting to free it from several amendments that could threaten its passage. While Sunshine Week puts the spotlight on the importance of public access to public information, SB-40 would make access more efficient.
"Sunshine Week is an important time to honor open records and transparency from our government,” said Craig Daily Press Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley. “It's not just important to the news media, it's important to the public and our democracy.”