Spring is five days away, but it’s already Sunshine Week.
Today is the birthday of James Madison Jr., our fourth president who is known as the Father of Constitution for his role in drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Born on a tobacco plantation in Port Conway, Va., he became the foremost advocate for openness in government in the early days of our nation.
Today also is National Freedom of Information Day, celebrating the passage by Congress of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966.
This the 13th annual Sunshine Week, spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
The movement began in 2002 in Florida, when legislators tried to add exemptions to the state’s public records act. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors established Sunshine Sunday to draw attention to their campaign. The first nationwide Sunshine Week took place March 13–19, 2005.
During my years as community conversations editor at The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, we always made a big deal of Sunshine Week with a week’s worth of columns and a full-page Sunday presentation.
In the masthead — the box in the lower left corner of this page — notice the FAC icon. That represents the First Amendment Coalition, which provides legal advice for journalists and advocates for the public’s right to know.
The Highland Community News is a proud member.
It is a tribute to the city and other public agencies that we cover that I haven’t had to consult the FAC’s legal hotline in the 12 weeks that I’ve been editor here. But I used it once while I was filling in at the Record-Gazette, convincing Banning to release details of a code enforcement action.
Your right to open meetings was established in 1953 with the passage of the Ralph M. Brown Act, named for an assemblyman from Modesto. It guarantees that decisions on how to spend your tax dollars are made in an open forum. The days of deal in secret smoky rooms are over.
California Public Record Act was approved in 1968 and enshrined in the state constitution in 2004 with the unanimous approval in the legislature of the Sunshine Amendment. More than 83 percent of voters supported it.
Madison saw the importance of openness in government when he led the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It’s just as important today.