Celebrated in mid-March each year, Sunshine Week is designed to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information. The idea for the national event began when the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors (FSNE) created Sunshine Sunday in 2002. The event was in direct response to efforts by several Florida legislators to create exemptions to the state's public records law. FSNE estimates that the increase in awareness created by its three Sunshine Sundays, resulted in the defeat of around 300 exemptions to open government laws.
In June of the following year, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) held a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington, D.C. The seeds for national Sunshine Week began at that convention, and an inaugural grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which continues to support the effort, allowed ASNE to launch the first national event in March of 2005. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined ASNE as a national co-coordinator of the event in 2011. The partnership has allowed the production of toolkit materials for participants and manpower to keep the Sunshine Week website and social media sites engaged.
Sunshine Week is not designed solely for journalists. It is about the right of members of the public to know what the government is doing and why, and the event is designed to empower community members to play an active role in government at all levels. Anyone can be a part of Sunshine Week. The only requirement is to make an effort to engage in a discussion about the importance of open government. The Sunshine Week website, which is located at sunshineweek.org offers the following recommendations for getting involved in the national initiative:
* Civic groups can organize local forums, sponsor essay contests or encourage elected officials to pass proclamations on the importance of open access.
* Educators can use the event to teach students about how government transparency improves our lives and makes our communities stronger.
* Elected officials can pass resolutions supporting openness, introduce legislation improving public access or encourage training of government employees to ensure compliance with existing laws mandating open records and meetings.
* Private citizens can write letters to the editor or spread the word to friends through social media.
We encourage the local community to join us in celebrating Sunshine Week, which has been set for March 10 through March 16. Readers who are interested in sharing their thoughts with the local community are encouraged drop letters to the editor off at the Cassville Democrat office, located at 600 Main St. in Cassville, or to email them to me at email@example.com.