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As others see it: Demand openness

Ticked off that a County Board conversation, including insensitive and offensive remarks about American Indians, was recorded and posted online, St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson this winter asked the county attorney whether electronic recording devices could be banned at future meetings.

The opinion came back as expected -- on the side of democracy, which suggests that any attempt to forbid the gadgets would clearly violate constitutional rights as well as Minnesota's open-meeting law.

By simply raising the question, Commissioner Nelson offered another reason to observe Sunshine Week, the fifth-annual national effort to inform the public about the importance of open government and the free flow of information. Newspapers across the country are participating this week, and while the event is largely the fodder of journalists -- it's organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors -- it really isn't about the media. It's about the public's need to know and its right to know what government is doing in its name. ...

As long as there are those in government determined to deny public access to the public process, there will be a need for Sunshine Week. And, "It's not enough to let officials promise openness. It has to be demanded constantly, and there must be consequences for officials who fail to do the public's business out in the open," as the Fresno, Calif., Bee opined over the weekend. "That can't happen unless the public takes on the task. The media can do a great deal to protect and promote access to public information, but it really rests with citizens to make sure that it happens. Demand to know what's being done in your name. It's your right."

How have you let the sun shine on open government?