This week is dedicated to access to public records - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

This week is dedicated to access to public records

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Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008 11:05 pm | Updated: 9:20 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Every week of the year has been designated by somebody as National Something Week, designed to bring public attention to issues and causes.

Such a din of commemoration makes it likely for some of the more serious issues to get lost in the shuffle. So we devote this space today to calling attention to an issue being highlighted this week that's about nothing less than freedom. Everyone's freedom. The freedom to know, which in a free society must precede the freedom to act.

This is National Sunshine Week, based on the metaphor for what is needed to be cast upon the actions of government so they are clearly known to all. According to sunshineweek.org, its roots are in 2002, when the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors created "Sunshine Sunday."

Simultaneous editorials in that state's major newspapers on that day called attention to efforts in the Florida Legislature to pass new exceptions to a state law granting access to public records, which over three more Sunshine Sundays thwarted about 300 proposed exemptions to open-government laws, according to the site.

Other states began their own versions, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors sponsored the first National Sunshine Week was in 2005.

The need to spread the sunshine in Arizona is just as important as it was in Florida. In the cover essay in today's Perspective section, University of Arizona professor David Cuillier points out that the Arizona Public Records Law now has about 300 exceptions created by our Legislature, a number that exceeds that of most states.

That number keeps growing and it is a rare session of the Arizona Legislature that doesn't include some attempt to add more.

At this rate, at some point the freedom of information, the right to know, will be undeniably subservient to government's license to act in secret - if it hasn't already been reached.

This was not the intent of the Arizona Public Records Law, the first version of which was passed in 1901, 11 years before Arizona gained statehood. It provides that "(p)ublic records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours."

"Any person" and "all times" doesn't sound very limiting to us, and yet each year what the taxpaying public is allowed to know about its government becomes less and less.

Our republic, in order for it to survive, requires a vigilant public and a vigilant press. Our nation's Founders protected the freedom to question government authority and to thus keep such authority from wrongfully intruding on our personal liberties.

But the less we know, the less empowered we all are to perform that function and the more likely the chances for government power to grow unchecked.

Sunshine Week lasts only seven days. Citizens in a free society have a duty to question their leaders and so preserve our freedoms, no matter which week it is.

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