Paul Jacob

Spring is springing, so these days we’re all a little more attuned to just how wonderful sunshine is. How much we need it . . . and how much we miss it when it’s not there.

It’s a rather good time, then, for Sunshine Week.

Which you just missed. Oops. Sorry. It was this past week.

The event is still worth noting, however. Also worth noting is the fact that this Sunshine Week soiree had nothing whatsoever to do with the sun, or CO2, or global warming. This is all about our government’s sunny disposition and its openness to us. About whether citizens can obtain from their putative servants the information necessary to play the part of fully engaged citizens.

To hold their government accountable.

Sunshine Week was spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors as “a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

But last week, there was a lot more sunshine coming from the sky than from government offices. As part of the week’s festivities, The Sunshine Week 2007 National Information Audit was released. It showed a disappointing lack of regard in government for following the law when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act or open records requests.

Run by volunteers mostly from news organizations, the study found that more “than a third of public officials audited refused to provide access to their local Comprehensive Emergency Response Plan — which is mandated by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 as a public document. Another 20 percent provided only partial reports.”

That’s a majority of our government offices that broke the law by refusing to provide the public (that is, us, in case you forgot) with what are specifically public documents.

Really, how hard can it be?

Well, this latest nationwide audit is not a lone voice in the wilderness crying that public records are not so public. There are plenty of others.

In Illinois last October, the Better Government Association conducted a study to see how responsive government bodies were in complying with Freedom of Information Act requests from “ordinary citizens.” Not very. Nearly two-thirds, 62 percent, failed to comply with the law.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.