Celebrating Sunshine Week
What if Valencia County commissioners routinely met behind closed doors, adopting new regulations without public comment or notice? What if the Los Lunas Board of Education did the same thing? And the New Mexico Legislature?
What if citizens were forbidden from expressing their opinion and state could prosecute alleged lawbreakers in secret?
The New Mexico Constitution, of course, guarantees the right of citizens to participate in their government and to know what elected officials are up to. By law, we can attend criminal trials and school board meetings, and the county commissioners must hold public hearings and publicize their agendas in advance.
The U.S. Constitution provides the all-important freedoms of speech and of the press, and the right to fair and open trials, and peaceable assembly. James Madison, the father of the federal constitution, made certain that Americans could “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
But these guarantees of participation and open government must be protected, or they will certainly be diminished. And that is why, once each year, newspapers across the country observe Sunshine Week — to shine a light on the importance of government openness.
So why is it called “Sunshine Week?” The name derives from something Justice Louis Brandies wrote about 100 years ago: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” People knew exactly what he meant.
He also wrote the seminal article on privacy in the United States, when he said there should be a “right to be let alone.” (He didn’t like the newspaper coverage of his wife’s social activities in Boston.)
Amid Sunshine Week, we want to make it clear that what we do here at the News-Bulletin goes beyond writing stories, selling ads, taking photos and producing a Facebook page with numerous “likes.” More important is the energy spent on the issue of transparent government, open records, the First Amendment and public meetings that really and truly are public.
When we do this job of ours correctly, some people don’t “like” us all that much, and we think that’s OK, because that’s our jobs, it’s what we do and we will continue to fight for what’s right — open government!