Every year in mid-March, the nation’s news organizations spearhead an initiative called “Sunshine Week,” to focus citizens’ attention on the critical importance of transparency to the healthy functioning of our unique democracy.
The initiative, which begins today, originated with the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee and the Florida Society of News Editors.
Anyone who doubts the public good from openness need only look to the watchdog journalism undertaken by the Palm Beach Post and many other news organizations.
Thanks to dogged reporting by the Post’s Pat Beall that uncovered horrific neglect of sick inmates, the state Department of Corrections is rebidding its prison health contracts.
A database project by the Post’s Lawrence Mower, Gaming the Lottery, uncovered serial winners whose luck defied statistical explanation. The Florida Lottery has responded with arrests and reforms.
And thanks to work by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, we know the agency on the front lines of the battle against sea-level rise has an unofficial ban on the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”
But Floridians should not feel sanguine about the state of transparency here. Every year legislators offer up new exemptions from the state’s open records laws, usually to benefit a special interest.
There are 35 of them this year, including SB 1324, a proposal from Sen. Jack Latvala to shield police officers and other government workers’ past employment history, a shockingly bad idea that would have protected officers like Charles Hoeffer, who is on paid leave from his job at the town of Palm Beach Shores while allegations of rape are investigated.
The best defense against the constant chipping away at openness and transparency is an engaged, informed, attentive citizenry.