Our Opinion: Shining a light on government actions

Democracies can't function in the dark, from the local to the state to the national levels. Assuring that democracy flourishes is the joint responsibility of the press, the public and government.

Since 2005, Sunshine Week (March 12-18), the creation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), has been dedicated to emphasizing both the importance of open government and the dangers of unjustified secrecy. While the press and government often have an adversarial relationship they both must serve the public, making it incumbent upon the public to insist that government at every level act transparently.

Noting that "Sunshine Week highlights the importance of public decision-making and the resources available to help public bodies follow the law," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced this week that her office is offering new online resources to educate the public and government bodies about the state's Open Meeting Law. Under the Division of Open Government, created in 2010 by Ms. Healey's predecessor, Martha Coakley, the attorney general will offer information on meeting minutes, electronic communications and the rules governing executive sessions. According to a press release, the office's new online resources were determined in large part on the Opening Meeting Law complaints received in 2016, 176 of which resulted in actions by the attorney general.

The most frequent violations have tripped up various Berkshire boards on occasion over the years. They are: Failure to follow appropriate procedures for entering executive sessions; insufficiently detailed or inaccurate meeting minutes; deliberation outside of a properly posted meeting; and failure to follow the requirement of the Opening Meeting Law process. To help public officials and members of the public assure compliance with the Opening Meeting Law the attorney general's office is holding regional training sessions this spring, and while none have been scheduled in the Berkshires, it is possible to sign up for webinar training. More information can be found by visiting mass.gov/ago or emailing OMLTraining@state.ma.us.

This year's Sunshine Week is the first to fall during the administration of President Trump, who is posing extraordinary challenges for the nation's press. His antipathy toward the media has been undisguised since the presidential campaign, and grows every time he or a member of his administration is called out for providing inaccurate information or failing to be sufficiently transparent in the conducting of the public's business.

This period of "alternate facts," "fake news" and partisan websites peddling misleading information and engaging in scare tactics requires the press to be even more vigilant in separating fact from fiction and helping the public sort out the truth in complex issues. This is a responsibility the public can help the press fulfill by demanding transparency from the public officials they elected to office and those appointed by those officials to conduct the people's business.


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