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Sunshine Week highlights importance of open government

By Dar Danielson, March 16, 2017

This is national “Sunshine Week,” and it has nothing to do with Spring Break.

Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director, Randy Evans, says the week celebrates the important role open and accessible government has in our democracy. “The week is intended to sort of highlight the importance of transparency in our dealings the government. And it’s a time each year when we can kind of step back from the day-to-day routine and sort of take not of the importance that transparency represents,” Evans says. He says there seems to be a change in politicians once they get elected.

“Every government official goes into office speaking highly of the importance of transparency in the government’s dealings with people. And it’s not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue,” Evans says. “We find that once people get in there then they start seeing reasons why they ought not to let people in on what’s going on. Government actually belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to the government officials.” New forms of communication have had an impact on government transparency.

He says the speed of information now makes it harder for the public to know what is accurate and what is rumor. “But it also makes it harder for the government to sort of manage the news — because there are lots of sources of information,” Evans says. Evans says it seems cases of government trying to shut out the public come before the Freedom of Information Council weekly. He cites the recent decision by the West Des Moines City Council on supporting a bill dealing with the Des Moines Waterworks as an example.

“The decision on whether West Des Moines was going to support or oppose that was made without having a public meeting. The city manager polled the council members by phone, cutting the public out on the whole chance for the public to express their opinions,” Evans says. “And there are examples of that routinely.” Evans says Iowa is fortunate that a minority of public officials try to get around the sunshine rules.

“By and large there are lots of citizens around the state who are serving on boards and councils and commissions whose hearts are in the right place. They are trying to find out what is required of them, what is expected,” according to Evans. Evans says the Iowa Freedom of Information Council is a resource for the public to find out about open records and open meetings. He says you can find a lot of information on the FOI Council website.

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