Sunshine Week a bright idea

Faculty payrolls. Administrative raises. A staggering hierarchy.

With so many budgets, committees and employee records, one could swim in all the information saturating this campus. But thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and Ohio’s Public Records Act, information about not only this university but also the government can be attained by simply requesting it.

So consider this week the diving board.

It just so happens that this week, March 12-18, is dedicated to the notion of open public records – Sunshine Week.

Started last year by an initiative of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Sunshine Week is a national effort focusing on the importance of open government and freedom of information.

According to, during the week all types of media from newspapers to television broadcasters run editorials, news and feature stories hoping to drive public discussion about why freedom of information is important to everyone, not just to those of us in the newsroom.

Cox Newspapers’ Washington Bureau Chief Andy Alexander, chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee, has summed up the week’s purpose quite well:

“This is not just an issue for the press. It’s an issue for the public,” Cox has said. “An alarming amount of public information is being kept secret from citizens, and the problem is increasing by the month. Not only do citizens have a right to know, they have a need to know.

“Our goal is to raise public awareness of this horrible trend that is hurting democracy.”

Open government is good government. And we’re not the only ones who think so.

According to two recent national polls, the public equates a government that is open about its actions with effective democracy.

In a poll conducted by the AccessNorthwest research and outreach project at the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, 81 percent of those surveyed said open government operations are essential in a democracy. Although 63 percent stated it is OK for government officials to keep records secret if it deemed necessary, 69 percent of respondents agreed that open records and meeting keep government officials honest.

A similar Scripps Survey Research Center poll indicated that only a third of Americans consider the federal government “very open,” while 55 percent consider state and local governments open to public review.

It would be nice if everyone could at some point in his or her life – whether to know how much a Kent State vice president is getting paid or to find out how much tax money is being spent on a city project – file a public records request. Reporters do it frequently and so should other citizens. That’s right, we journalists do not have superpowers. You can do this too.

If not for any other reason, just do it to keep your government on its toes. And rest assured, if you don’t have the time to file a request, we will.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.