Breaking the law — intentionally or otherwise

When elected officials intentionally refuse to release public information, do they realize they are breaking the law?

As Sunshine Week continues, The Inter-Mountain celebrates local agencies that operate openly and with transparency, as well as pointing out instances when public information has been harder to come by, and officials have been reluctant to let the public know what was going on behind closed doors.

The Inter-Mountain works with officials each week who do not hesitate to turn over public information – such as court documents, police reports and governmental financial records – for the better good of the community. We have many fine examples of open government in our area, including the cooperation of magistrate and circuit court, law enforcement, board of education and city and county officials.

These public servants want to conduct open government and follow the law. Their commitment to open, professional government ensures that local citizens – their constituents – are well-served.

When citizens – and the newspapers that inform them – are denied access to public information, the situation creates rumors and erodes trust in our public servants and elected officials.

When officials refuse to release public information, and intentionally make it difficult to obtain, they are choosing not to comply with the law. That decision may result from a lack of education or training. Those officials may not even realize they have become lawbreakers.

Preventing that type of situation through education is why Sunshine Week was created. Sunshine laws aren’t only for the benefit of the press. Many times its the media that make the requests for public information, but all of the public has a right to know.