Sunshine Week

Sunday, March 16-22, 2014

Colleagues,

Sunshine Week is March 16-22, and it is in our deep best interests to work together to emphasize and celebrate it, as we continue our struggle against the forces of darkness.

After all, we started it in Florida in 2002 when some Florida legislators were trying to create a range of new exemptions to the state’s public records law. FSNE later estimated that 300 proposed open-government exemptions were defeated in the legislative sessions that followed the first three Sunshine Sundays, because of the increased public and legislative awareness that resulted from newspaper reports and commentary.

Other states followed, and now, Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

It is sponsored nationally by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The heart of Sunshine Week is what our newspapers/website can do to command readers’ attention to the continuing attacks on open government. In the past, we’ve asked FSNE members to collaborate on various surveys and reporting projects on Sunshine compliance.

This year, the work is being done by the First Amendment Foundation, three journalism schools and their students, but the beneficiaries will be you, your newspaper and your readers.

Here is FAF’s plan:

First Amendment Foundation Report Card Project

The Florida First Amendment Foundation is developing a Report Card on Government Transparency to enable Floridians to grade how well their local governments are making essential information available online.

The Report Card is being designed by Barbara Petersen, president of the Foundation, who is currently serving on a legislative task force assigned to assess and make recommendations for improving state agency transparency.

The Report Card will provide a template for evaluating local government websites in the following areas:

  • Budget, audit, and tax information.
  • Financial and spending data including a check register and vendor contracts.
  • Salaries and pension fund information.
  • Registered lobbyists and whom they represent.
  • Public meeting information, including meeting notice, agenda and agenda materials and minutes.
  • Online access to text of laws, ordinances, resolutions and regulations that guide the government’s operations.
  • An Open Records Page with a summary of citizen’s open records and open meetings rights, FAQs, contact information and information on how to make a public record request.
  • Posting of frequently requested records.
  • School enrollment and test score data and high school graduation rates.

Websites will also be evaluated on the ease of use, including the ability to download documents of interest.

The Foundation will  work with journalism programs at the University of Florida, University of South Florida and University of Miami to evaluate the websites of every county and school district in Florida and a number of cities and towns.

The evaluations will be conducted by journalism students using the Foundation’s report card, with the individual report cards then reviewed by a Foundation support team to assure uniformity in applying identified standards.    Once the statewide results are compiled, the students will write individual reports for use by daily and weekly newspapers, and for area television stations, for release during our annual Sunshine Week,  March 16-22, 2014.

These reports will be posted on the FSNE website by Friday, March 14, and FSNE also will send them to members. PLEASE NOTE: They are embargoed until Sunshine Sunday, March 16.

Other Sunshine Week activities, resources and ideas

  • As she has in the past, Barbara Petersen is soliciting op-ed pieces by prominent or interesting Floridians. They are free for your use.  They will be posted to the FSNE website no later than March 14.
  • Please write your own editorials, based on local issues. You can find many ideas and resources on the national website, sunshineweek.org<http://sunshineweek.org>. After you publish them, please post them on the FSNE website so others may choose to reprint them or use them as resources.
  • Barbara also will post on the FSNE website FAF’s assessment of bad and good bills proposed for the upcoming legislature.  I urge you to scan these bills and use some in editorials or columns.
  • Spend a few minutes scanning sunshineweek.org<http://sunshineweek.org>, which offers an idea bank, toolkit, Sunshine Week merchandise and other resources.

Please make Sunshine Week 2014 a big deal in your community because . . . it is a big deal.

Frank Denton
FSNE Sunshine Week Committee