An open and transparent government is essential to any democracy. That’s why we are celebrating Sunshine Week – to raise awareness about access to public information and government accountability.
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include everyone interested in the public’s right to know. This includes print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others .
Anyone can be a part of Sunshine Week. In the first two national Sunshine Weeks, not only journalists, but also students, teachers, private citizens, librarians, civic leaders, public officials, bloggers, non-profit groups were involved.
The extent to which you participate is up to you. The only requirement is that you do something to engage in a discussion about the importance of open government. Participation is not about how much you do; it’s about doing it.
It is ever so important that we stay vigilant and aware of the state of our access to public records. The Obama administration has made a pledge to bring back the Freedom of Information Act and transparency in government. This reverses the last administration’s restrictions on Freedom of Information Act requests as well as changes to the Presidential Records Act..
The sun doesn’t always shine, however, as a recent court rejected a FOIA claim regarding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Act. A request filed by various public-interest groups asking that details of the ACTA be revealed to the public has been denied by an official of the Office of the US Trade Representative. Knowledge Ecology International made seven document requests, all of which were denied “in the interest of national security.”
Here in the Rogue Valley we are fortunate to have the Oregon Public Records Laws which guarantees public access to the public records of government bodies at all levels in Oregon. Locally we have invested in a technical infrastructure that allows more transparency through our government websites and listservs. Through Rogue Valley Television we have our county and local meetings broadcast live to our living rooms.
As important as it is to tune into City Council meetings, it is just as crucial to attend them in person to show our councilors we are paying attention. We must be diligent and demand that our public records and meetings remain transparent. For example, in Medford, recent renovations have relocated public meetings into rooms that have no CCTV access. Critical meetings, such as the Communication Advisory Committee, are not getting the coverage that the community deserves. It is important that we attend these meetings as members of the public and independent press.
In Southern Oregon, a great opportunity to participate and learn more is the 5th annual Independent Media Week where we showcase our coalition of independent media producers, local activists and community groups organized around the theme that “A well-informed citizenry is a cornerstone of democracy”
We are proud to have the commitment of Peter Phillips director of Project Censored, to be the keynote speaker and highlight of the week’s events. Project Censored’s principal objective is the advocacy for and protection of First Amendment rights and the freedom of information in the United States.
The event with Peter Phillips is planned for April 24 at Southern Oregon University, Student Union in the Rogue River Room starting at 7 pm. You can find out more about Independent Media Week 2009 at http://www.kskq.org/imw/
For more information about Sunshine Week and ways you can participate. http://www.sunshineweek.org
Here are some additional links and resources help you be more informed. Please feel free to add to this list…
Here is a great resource to help you apply for a FOIA request on your FBI file…Also works for CIA, NSA, DIA, etc.
Rogue Valley Community Television provides government access television services for the City of Ashland, the Mayor and City Council of the City of Medford, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Josephine County Board of Commissioners. Ashland School District, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Rogue Valley Transporation District. Government services generally include live televised government meetings, live studio shows of topics of interest and other media productions.
The Jackson County Website Video & TV Center provides access to live public meetings, recorded broadcasts and educational videos.
The Archived City Records contain a complete list of all City Documents, including Contracts, Agreements, Deeds and Easements. Also contained in this folder are Ordinances, Resolutions, City Council Minutes/Packets and Minutes for the various Commissions and Committees.
This list is an unmoderated membership list that allows citizens of the Rogue Valley to submit comments to the Ashland City Council and each other.
In Medford, the Communications Advisory Committee was established to review all comment cards and determine if complaints and problems have been addressed. Review quarterly reports of activities of Community Service Officers. Review any departmental procedures that have resulted in repeated complaints and make recommendations to City Council regarding the need for policy change. Track all complaints about employee conduct and report the status of the complaints to the City Council. Listen to oral comments and complaints from citizens and suggest appropriate avenues for resolution of these matters.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to an article that demonstrates the critical importance that citizens act as watchdogs. The article, “Internal Affairs: How They Cover up Police Abuse” explores the consistency and pervasiveness of the cover up of police misconduct by Internal Affairs. The article focuses on Internal Affairs in Medford, Oregon. This is the kind of story that the mainstream media would ignore as it requires months of investigation, interviews and stepping on toes…