NFOIC and its state and regional affiliates are celebrating Sunshine Week 2017 (March 12-19). Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Federal Freedom of information Act (FOIA) by President Lyndon Johnson on July 4, 1966. The FOIA represents one of our most important acts passed for our democracy and State Freedom of Information laws are the single most important transparency tool available to the public.
Unfortunately, it is common for government agencies to defy these laws and obstruct the public records process by deliberately delaying the release of petitioned records, providing the public with incomplete records, or ignoring the law altogether.
It is particularly important in today’s society as citizens of the United States find it increasingly difficult to access their local, state and federal government –public officials and public information (open records and open meetings). At the same time, government and public institutions are faced with the growing and difficult challenges to collect, organize, manage and report public information in today’s digital society.
Each day, a business owner, citizen, journalist, or student, has difficulty obtaining public information or is denied access to a public meeting, or document concerning their government or public institution.
A chasm is emerging between residents and their public institutions that has created unprecedented friction between them. Failed attempts to gain access, or being denied access to public information is eroding the public’s trust in their governments and decreasing transparent, open and accessible government.
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Active participants include journalists, news media organizations, civic groups, libraries, watchdog organizations, schools, FOI advocacy groups and others interested in the public’s right to know.
Sunshine Week was created by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). One of the creators of Sunshine Week is Pete Weitzel, veteran newspaper journalist, editor and open government advocate. Pete also helped launch the NFOIC and served as its second president. NFOIC recognized Pete last year during the annual FOI Summit for his tireless contributions to open government and FOI naming him among the “Heroes of the Fifty States” and inducting him into the Open Government Hall of Fame.