“Sunshine Week” highlights need for government transparency

Sun and clouds persist through this week with dry weather
Sun and clouds persist through this week with dry weather(WKYT)
Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 9:50 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA) - Journalists and activists across the country are celebrating “Sunshine Week,” an initiative that highlights and educates people on the importance of open government, and the potential dangers of secrecy in governance.

“The role of a journalist is obviously to report the news, to tell the audience something they didn’t know before,” said David Bordewyk, South Dakota Newspaper Association Executive Director. “When it comes to covering government, (their job) is to hold government accountable.”

Pushback against open records requests by Florida politicians in 2005 prompted the American Society of News Editors to establish “Sunshine Week.” The week’s occurrence in mid-March is also meant to coincide with James Madison’s birthday.

A number of organizations mark the week by holding events to discuss the need for more open government.

“We want to make sure that our supporters, and the public in general, are aware of the importance of government accountability and transparency,” said Janna Farley, Communications Director for the South Dakota ACLU. “Its not just something we are going to focus on for one week, we want to make sure people know how important it is for them to have access to this information all the time.”

In South Dakota, the importance of government transparency is particularly important, given the state’s consistently weak record on government transparency laws.

“We have several exceptions as far as when government doesn’t have to release information. Whether it be related to law enforcement things, or government correspondences and so forth,” said Bordewyk. “Things that in other states are considered to be open and accessible. In South Dakota, they are not.”

While it is just as important to have an open government at the national and state level, for concerned citizens, staying close to home is just as important.

“The decisions that your school board makes, your city council, your county commissioners, those decisions probably affect you more on a day-to-day level,” said Farley. “To just kind of kickstart why open government is so important, and why Sunshine Week is such an important concept, sit in on a city council meeting, and just see what kind of decisions they are making.”