Our Opinion: Sunshine Week celebrates ‘transparency’ in action

During the observance of National Sunshine Week in Missouri, allow us to highlight the value of openness in government.

Government is people. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln characterized government as “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

And government funds are your tax dollars.

Openness in government is important to journalists because it helps us do our jobs.

But everyone has a vested interest in openness because government, at various levels, determines limits on personal freedoms, laws to permit or prohibit actions and how your tax dollars are spent.

A buzzword repeated by candidates for public office during election years is “transparency.”

The practice of transparency, however, often falls short of the promise of transparency.

Missouri’s Open Meetings and Open Records Law, commonly known as the Sunshine Law, requires political subdivisions to conduct public business in public view, except in specific, designated situations.

The specific exceptions mean government may, not must, close certain proceedings.

And law requires government to err on the side of openness. Sections of the Sunshine Law “shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.”

Bills before the Legislature this session propose a number of changes to the Sunshine Law.

Those changes do not entirely create greater openness. For example, one provision extends the privacy of security and safety plans for public facilities, including schools. That’s sensible and necessary.

The changes, like the Sunshine Law itself, are not designed to make our jobs as journalists easier or to complicate and confound governing bodies.

The purpose to is to be certain the people’s business is conducted in full view of the people – just as it should be.

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