Supporters of Sunshine Week, which officially kicks off Sunday, hope to make the public more aware of its right to access information about government at any level.

The American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press do a great job planning and promoting this weeklong national effort to bring attention to the importance of government transparency in our society.

When it comes to Sunshine Week examples, we may think of global stories like Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state or the federal government's attempt to crack down on information "leaks" to news organizations.

But the far more common and direct application of "right to know" laws is at the local level:

• The severance package awarded to an embattled community college president.

• A list of city-owned equipment that public works department employees took for their own personal use and returned with the promise of no repercussions.

• Test results that showed dangerously high asbestos levels in the air inside the county elections board building.

• The fund balance for an asset forfeiture program the city police chief had kept largely off the city books.

Those are just a few examples of information the public learned from The Citizen, one small newspaper in one small upstate New York, over the past decade thanks to the New York state Freedom of Information Law. It's stories like these that underscore the essence of what Sunshine Week is about.

The Citizen is not unique when it comes to using freedom of information concepts. Hundreds of New York news organizations and thousands of private residents gather information about their local government every year thanks to FOIL.

But truth be told, there should be many more requests.

Too often, people make the mistake of assuming that FOIL is just for the media. It's not. It exists because it's a vital tool for an effective democracy, which can only exist with a thoroughly and accurately formed voting public.

Executive editor Jeremy Boyer’s column appears Thursdays in The Citizen and he can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer


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