Sunshine is for more than just flowers

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By Becky Cassell, Editor

Sun - shine [suhn-shahyn] n.

1. the shining of the sun; direct light of the sun

2. brightness or radiance; cheerfulness or happiness

3. the effect of the sun in lighting and heating a place

4. a place where the direct rays of the sun fall

Say you have gone to a government or school board meeting to hear and maybe even participate in a discussion about why a certain action is being taken.

Then, to your surprise, a vote is taken without that discussion taking place.

What happened?

Many times, the longer that government officials are in office, the more they come to believe that the business they do is private, that the public should only find out about something once it's been settled.

They sometimes forget that the business they're discussing is ours - the public's.

Besides accompanying the warmer days of spring, the word "sunshine" has an altogether different meaning.

It's what this week, March 15-21, is all about.

National Sunshine Week is a nationwide program that focuses on the importance of open government.

Simply put, the sunshine initiative focuses on the fact that public business should be done in public.

Though spearheaded by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public's right to know what its government is doing - and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and encourage people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

Public records give us the answers to our questions - How safe are our schools? How is my tax money being spent? Is the new highway going to go through my living room? Why are they tearing down that building down the street? Are my water rates going up? Is our street going to be repaired?

These are questions to which every resident has a right to know the answers.

And we rely on our government officials to give us the correct answers in a timely manner.

That's where open records and open meetings come in.

The intent of the Kentucky Open Records Act is appropriately explained in its introduction. The legislature established that "free and open examination of public records is in the public interest and the exceptions provided for by [the act] or otherwise provided by law shall be strictly construed, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others."

In other words, the information belongs to us - not the government. And it should not be kept in secrecy.

And that's what Sunshine Week is all about.

Sunshine does a lot more than simply help our flowers grow in springtime.