Sunday, December 28, 2008
Let The Sunshine In
remind yourself every day that information is power. Oh, and by the way, in New York State you may tape anyone who is talking with you or who calls you, and you do not have to tell the person that you are taping him/her. Document everything you do, and you will succeed in opening our government to public scrutiny (we DO want that)...
Sunshine Week: Your Right To Know
March 6, 2008 at 11:00 am by Leigh Hornbeck, Staff writer
March 16, the birthday of James Madison, marks the beginning of Sunshine Week. Founded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in the aftermath of 9/11 when the government put a lock-down on information, the message of Sunshine Week is this: “Want to keep government clean and working for you? Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Next week, Bob Freeman (see picture below)- the resource in this state for freedom of information and the open government law as the Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government - will make an appearance at the Greenwich Free Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Freeman describes your right to public information like this: how many of you, as students, struggled with math? Did you have a conversation with your parents about whether it could be the teacher, not you, who was at fault? Do you know you can find out if the teacher was actually certified to teach math instead of another subject? Do you know your school superintendent’s contract is public information?
As a reporter, I’ve witnessed more than one elected official rebuff, ignore and patronize citizens as they tried to look inside their government’s inner workings. Bob’s advice: become educated, which leads you to become armed and dangerous.
Understand the myths versus the reality: when you hear a chairman kick the public out of a meeting for an executive session because the board wants to talk about a personnel matter, litigation or an ongoing investigation, don’t just accept it as gospel. For example, Bob wrote in his essay, Government Secrecy: Myths vs. Reality: The word “personnel” cannot be found in either the Freedom of Information Law or the Open Meetings Law. Although some aspects of personnel records pertaining to government officers or employees may be withheld, others are accessible under FOIL, particularly those that relate to their duties, such as salary, overtime, attendance, disciplinary action, etc.
For more of Bob’s essay and more information on Sunshine Week, go to the Web site.