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March 13, 2013

Let sun shine on government

The Daily Star

---- — Way back in 1969, The 5th Dimension recorded a song called “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” in which the group mentions no fewer than 43 times that people should “let the sun shine.”

While that may have been a bit repetitive, “letting the sun shine in” is an awfully good idea, particularly when it comes to transparency in our local, state and national governments.

We’re in the midst of “Sunshine Week,” an annual event led by news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know, according to the American Society of News Editors.

While newspapers are on the front lines of keeping tabs on our elected officials, they are acting as the eyes and ears of a public that must stay involved with how their taxes are spent. And in New York, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Here’s what an Associated Press report about transparency in the U.S. had to say about the Empire State:

“In New York’s state capital, Albany, critics have compared the budget process to the old Soviet Politburo — but, some suggest, even more secretive and more in the red. Despite a reform bill that passed two years ago, legislative leaders still craft budget bills behind closed doors and send them out for quick votes. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who rode to office vowing to reform state government, has focused more on ethics and lobbying than on transparency.”

While this quote is a few year old, the issues it references are as fresh as ever. A recent initiative undertaken by the Cuomo administration to collect online government records onto a state-run website is certainly a nod toward transparency — and one that comes as no coincidence during this week. But his office has a long way to go to achieve the sorts of reforms he campaigned for.

One simple step would to be to make good on his promise to publish his schedule of meetings so that New Yorkers know who is bending the governor’s ear. If he is as serious about open government as his recent media release would suggest, it seems to be the least he can do.

And what can the rest of us do?

Parents and teachers can educate young people about civics and open government. Citizens can attend a local government meeting and see how things are being done. Anyone who is online can visit, or follow @SunshineWeek on Twitter, for more ideas.

“Sunlight,” said the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a 1913 Harper’s Weekly article, “is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

By all means, like the The 5th Dimension said: “Let the sun shine in.”