Columns » Voice of Reason

Sunshine Week reinforces of the importance of government transparency


Sunday is the start of daylight saving time ... an opportunity to turn our clocks forward by an hour and embrace an extra hour of sunshine. Appropriately, it also marks the start of Sunshine Week, a 14-year-old initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It’s designed to throw light on the importance of media’s watchdog function over our government.

Just as the sun fends off the darkness, so too does a vigilant news team fend off dark intentions and shady, back-room dealings. It does so by attending meetings, reviewing huge stacks of paperwork and digital data, and requesting and then reviewing public documents.

Oh, and for the record, all citizens absolutely have the right to do this — not just the media — and our community watchdogs are some of the most steely-eyed observers of local government out there. That commitment is commendable, given that Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests can come with pretty hefty price tags. (The city of Colorado Springs charges a quarter per page after the first 25 cost-free pages of copied documents and $20 per hour — in 15-minute increments — for research after the first two cost-free hours.)
The Indy’s Pam Zubeck, in a somewhat ironic use of the open records act, recently obtained Colorado Springs statistics related to the frequency and cost of CORA requests. What she learned is that in 2017, the city fielded 678 requests, of which 25 incurred fees that totaled $2,010. In 2018, the city responded to 951 CORAs, for which 29 requesters paid $2,470.

The city couldn’t tell us how many requesters abandoned their efforts after getting a cost estimate; nor could they disclose how many requests were denied. Apparently they do not track that information.

And while that cumulative $4,480 isn’t going to help balance the budget, it is notable that some of the funds came from taxpayers who are already footing the government bill.
Why does this matter? We’ve seen time and again how not holding the government’s feet to the fire ends up costing a community more. Multiple studies have found that, in order to be economically healthy, communities need a well-informed, engaged constituency, and a hyper-vigilant media supports that.

It’s the word of law that obligates legislators at all levels to carry out their duties in the open; but it’s the threat of disclosure of misdeeds that keeps them honest. And when we discover that they haven’t, rest assured we will hold them accountable.

Sure, we’ve all heard how those of us who perform this role are espousing “fake news,” and are clearly (one of our absolute favorites) “enemies of the American people” … yada, yada, yada. But don’t think for a minute we’re going to stop doing exactly what needs to be done.
Because you have a right to know. To know that your dollars are being spent in a responsible way; to know that your elected representatives are truly representing; and to know that the actions of the government are taking place in the light of day.

Happy Sunshine Week, everyone, from your friendly neighborhood enemies.

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