Important to maintain public’s right to know

(Marion) Chronicle-Tribune

Sunshine Week ended recently but the struggle to assure that government at the local, state and federal level respects the public’s right to know continues, constantly.

The purpose of Sunshine Week is to remind us that government’s power is supposed to be limited. Read the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. You’ll get the point. It is a point too often missed these days by the establishment in both major political parties.

Sunshine week is about self-government, an idea that after generations of success has fallen strangely under challenge in the United States.

It is the concept they are the servants and we, the people, are the bosses.

If it doesn’t feel that way, there is a reason. We have allowed elected officials to behave more like powerful superiors than simple trustees of their office, which was at one time a sacred and honorable relationship between the person and his or her limited duties.

But anytime you have people in power — even the most well-intentioned people — the temptation to misuse authority is as ever present as sin itself. It might be a bureaucrat who doesn’t turn over a report without a bunch of questions or hassles. It might be elected officials who gather at coffee shops, bars or restaurants to talk about the public’s business. It might be the self-satisfied elite at any level keeping public information hidden in the name of the public good.

As we have discovered, it might be a powerful U.S. Secretary of State seeking to protect herself from any scrutiny from people she doesn’t consider friends or the Internal Revenue Service or the National Security Agency secretly gathering information about you for no reasonable purpose or to intimidate for political purposes.

Every time someone is wrongly denied access to a public record or public officials improperly carry on public business in private, the public is insulted and the idea of good government is tarnished.

Our Founding Fathers created our system of checks and balances. It is why we have guarantees of free speech and a free press. James Madison, George Washington, George Mason and the other geniuses who helped invent our nation believed those guarantees would allow the people to know what their government was doing and, therefore, be protected from its abuses and be able to make abuses known.

The trust we place in our government must be cautious trust, not a blind trust.

Good citizens have a duty to be diligent and maybe even a little skeptical in keeping tabs on their governments. That job belongs to us all.

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