Celebrating Sunshine Week: Advocating for Open Government and Access to Public Records

This week is Sunshine Week – an annual celebration of access to public information and open government. Spearheaded by the News Leaders Association, Sunshine Week is an opportunity to advance ideas that give all of us a chance to better understand the inner workings of government. Sunshine Week is an occasion to demand the permanent changes necessary for all members of the public to effectively engage with the government and stay informed.[0]

It is essential that state laws allow both in-person and remote access to government meetings.[1] Without hybrid meetings, people with young children, disabilities, work commitments or other impositions that prevent in-person attendance are at risk of being shut out of the democratic process.[1] Legislators from Massachusetts recently acknowledged the situation with a law that could be used as an example for other states.[1]

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, I have made it a top priority to aggressively enforce the Open Records and Open Meetings Acts across State government.[2] Unfortunately, we have seen individuals resorting to lawsuits to get records after government bureaucrats refused to release them.[2] Litigation should not be necessary in order to gain access to a public record.[2] I believe in leading by example, and when I was sworn in, my office had a backlog of 66 Open Records requests dating back years.[2] It was of utmost importance to me to fulfill these requests, so my team sprung into action.[2] Since I assumed office, I am delighted to share that the backlog at the Office of Attorney General has been cleared, and 34 extra Open Records requests have been fulfilled.[2]

Legislation currently in consideration during this year’s legislative session will create a public access counselor in the Office of the Attorney General to guarantee public bodies are in compliance with the Open Records Act.[2] I am in favor of this endeavor.[2] It is essential that our nation and its government, which was established by the people, for the people and of the people, are open and transparent.[3] A government that is transparent leads to a more efficient government, as it eliminates the possibility of bad conduct by officials while encouraging those with honesty and integrity to serve in public office.[3]

How can you celebrate Sunshine Week? Be as specific as possible when requesting public records. Do you have any idea of how long ago the records you are searching for were created? Do they need to include a specific keyword?[4] What kind of data are you looking for?[4] Emails, voice recordings, information, etc.?[4] Be precise – if you know, specifically, what you’re looking for, ask for that, including as specific a date range for when you believe the records were created.

0. “Following COVID, permanent changes needed to keep government open to all (Viewpoint)” MassLive.com, 12 Mar. 2023, https://www.masslive.com/opinion/2023/03/following-covid-permanent-changes-needed-to-keep-government-open-to-all-viewpoint.html

1. “Let the sun shine in on open government and freedom of information – Itemlive” Daily Item, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.itemlive.com/2023/03/13/let-the-sun-shine-in-on-open-government-and-freedom-of-information-2/

2. “Open records and meetings foster better government | Columns | theadanews.com” Theadanews, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.theadanews.com/opinion/columns/open-records-and-meetings-foster-better-government/article_b0837010-4f7a-5d0b-97e4-ba34a41ecdf6.html

3. “Column: Open records and meetings foster better government” WoodwardNews.net, 13 Mar. 2023, https://www.woodwardnews.net/oklahoma/opinion/column-open-records-and-meetings-foster-better-government/article_90e257af-65cb-5d1c-8d95-b2dd2f3e4811.html

4. “Public data belongs to all of us; we just have to ask” Rochester Post Bulletin, 13 Mar. 2023, https://www.postbulletin.com/news/public-data-belongs-to-all-of-us-we-just-have-to-ask

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