Let’s celebrate the sunshine this week
I’m not a meteorologist, but I can still tell you that we’re in for seven days of sunshine next week.
I’m a journalist, and March 14-20 is Sunshine Week — my profession’s observance of such acronyms as IPRA, OMA, and, ironically, FOG.
And you should show adherence too, because that alphabet soup I’ll get around to explaining in a minute applies to everyone — not just journalists. It’s about freedom, and providing power to the people that enables them to exercise some of the inalienable rights our country’s forefathers blissfully bestowed to us when they drew up the document we call the Constitution of the United States of America.
God bless the First Amendment. It’s one of the original Bill of Rights — the first one, in fact — and it’s the one that provides for Freedom of the Press, as well as good stuff like freedoms of speech, religion, peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government.
That’s where FOG rolls in. It’s short for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and its mission is to defend the public’s right to know and assure accountability in democracy. It does so through education, outreach, intervention, lobbying efforts and, if need be, litigation.
FOG has a toll-free hotline to answer questions and provide advice or assistance if you think you’re getting stonewalled by officials in state and local governments or the schools. Some information, of course, is off-limits. But you don’t know until you ask. You can ask FOG by calling toll-free 888-843-9121.
On to IPRA — the Inspection of Public Records Act. It’s a law that draws the drapes and lets the sun shine in on matters of importance to the public interest. It requires open access to almost all records in state and local government.
A clued-in records custodian knows what type of information is subject to inspection and ought to be able to provide it to you in a timely manner and for a fee, if copies are required. And if they give you any trouble there are procedures you can follow that put the ball in their court and makes them vulnerable to ending up in court if they don’t respond.
The New Mexico Attorney General Office’s Web site, www.nmag.gov, has a handy dandy compliance guide you’re likely to find helpful for all your inspection of public records needs. You can also just click and file a complaint without leaving the comfort of your own home or office. It’s a beautiful thing.
OMA opens the shades and sheds light on public meetings. It, too, is a law that government entities are required to follow so that public business is conducted in public. It addresses notification of meetings, proper issuance of agendas, recording of minutes and under what circumstances public boards are permitted to go into closed executive session. The Attorney General’s Web site has all the details.
The forecast for more open government is good. Rays of Sunshine broke through during the latest legislative session. The House cleared the way by adopting a series of resolutions that added video webcasting on the floor, audio webcasting of committee meetings and online posting of votes.
In addition, the House and Senate passed, and the governor signed into law, breakthrough bills giving protection to whistleblowers. The Attorney General’s Office has been trying for four years to get similar bills passed that would provide protections for state employees who report malfeasance.
Just last week, the governor signed a bill that will establish a “Sunshine Portal,” an online database that provides up-to-date information on the state’s revenues, expenditures, investments and staffing.
So the outlook for more Sunshine is bright. Celebrate Sunshine Week and your freedom to information. Bask in it!