Independence Day marks 45th birthday of open records
Friday, Jun. 24, 2011
The following message from League President Kitty Burcsu was printed in the June 25 edition of The Columbus Dispatch.
This Independence Day marks 45 years since the landmark Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into federal law – yet journalists and the public sometimes struggle to overcome barriers to open records requests erected by the very government that should be safeguarding such openness.
FOIA established our right to access government records and to know what our government is doing – its successes and failures. Exercising our right to know empowers us “the public”. It allows us to contribute to our government and hold government accountable. Still, when a specific Columbus Dispatch request for email correspondence between a public university and the Governor’s Office is denied as “overly broad” (“Working Undercover”, June 14), it is no wonder that Americans are still distrustful of government. A Pew Research Center poll showed that only 22 percent of Americans surveyed say they can trust government in Washington “almost always or most of the time” – among the lowest ratings in the half-century since pollsters have been asking the question.
Open government is in the news almost every day as state officials rush to privatize state services and assets (endangering accountability to the public), redraw legislative district lines, and designate state funding for nonpublic schools. We as citizens must remain vigilant.
FOIA has enabled the public to ensure the health of our democracy and our own wellbeing, but FOIA laws are only as good as we demand they be. For decades, the League of Women Voters has acted as a government watchdog at the federal, state and local levels – observing government meetings, conducting document audits and empowering citizens. The key to a healthy, open and trusted government is informed public participation. This FOIA anniversary, exercise your right to know by attending a government meeting, checking out government websites and encouraging elected officials to protect and maintain open government. Let the sunshine in!