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Sunshine Week is the spiritof democracy in action

Shining a light on public records

Webster's definition of democracy reads in part: ... a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and is exercised directly by them or their elected agents... .

Although the United States and its various state and local bodies operate under a republic form of government, with elected officials setting public policy, the principals of democracy drape over us like a cloak constructed to protect us from the darkness.

But that cloak is frayed at the edges, tattered by governments ' local, state and national ' that sometimes seem to think the public's business is none of the public's business.

March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, when journalists from all walks stress the importance of open government. We believe that if the power of government is truly to be invested in the people, the people cannot be excluded from the process nor denied the information used to determine public policy.

The Mail Tribune has aggressively pushed to keep public records and public meetings open to the public at the local level. We have appealed to the governing bodies, sought assistance from local and state officials and gone to court. We intend to continue that approach.

The San Jose Mercury News has taken it one step further, offering to the San Jose City Council a proposed ordinance to ensure open government. It is a proposal that all citizens interested in democracy and openness could endorse, and one that we certainly do. Following is the introductory section of the proposed law:

— Findings and Purpose

The City Council of San Jose and the People of the City of Jose find and declare:

(a) Elected officials, councils, commissions, boards, committees and other agencies of the City exist to serve the public and to conduct the people's business. The people do not cede to these entities the right to decide what the people should know about the operations of local government.

(b) In order to ensure that the public interest is served by the decisions and actions of the City government, the government's conduct of the people's business must be subject to public scrutiny.

(c) Members of the public must be provided with a meaningful opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect them, and to understand how and why those decisions are made.

(d) In order to ensure public participation in and scrutiny of the decisions and conduct of the City government, records and information pertaining to the conduct of the people's business must be readily available to the public, unless specifically exempt from disclosure under this Title.

(e) Members of the public should not need to engage in prolonged or burdensome efforts, or to retain the services of an attorney, in order to obtain meaningful access to public meetings or public records and information. Rather, it is the duty of every official and employee of the City government to ensure prompt and meaningful access to public meetings and public records, and to assist the public in obtaining such access.

(f) Honesty, integrity, and openness in the exercise of government authority are fundamental prerequisites to an effective and efficient municipal government that serves the needs and interests of its citizens.

For more on Sunshine Week and open government, see .