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Editorial: Sunshine Week teaches about open government

James Madison, the father of our federal Constitution, wrote that “consent of the governed” requires that the people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” In that spirit, newspapers and other media outlets from around the country join forces with the public at large to celebrate “Sunshine Week.”

We, at The Vidette, present you three open government related stories this week— two originating from public records and public documents from the city of McCleary, including one about the city attorney trying to keep discussions “in house” and out of the public spotlight on a taxpayer issue and one about teachers fighting to get their own records in the Oakville School District.

But our news coverage focusing on public records doesn’t just happen this week.

Over the past year, we have filed dozens of public records requests. We have brought you news on sexual harassment complaints, employee waste on government time, public employee terminations — and even the attempts by our mayor to track down leaks in his office from employees sending us records on their own time. We’ve looked at employee salaries and murder records. For the city of Montesano, alone, there have been numerous requests to look at the issues involving our Main Street and the numerous investigations that took place last year — all paid for by taxpayers.

This week, alone, we have appointments to review records with the city of Montesano and the Elma School District.

Sometimes, government officials have been helpful. Sometimes, they haven’t. Most are amazing, hard-working individuals, who consistently try their best.

Without the state’s Public Records Act and protections granted by the courts allowing access to court records, many stories would never have been told. The fact we can print regular columns on those who are charged with crimes is a testament to the people’s desire to know what’s going on.

To learn more about Sunshine Week, visit http://www.sunshineweek.org/

If you’re having your own public record battles, let us know. And if you need advice on how to get records, contact the state Attorney General’s open government ombudsman.

More information at http://www.atg.wa.gov/opengovernment/ombudsman.aspx or call (360) 586-7842.