Shedding Light, Promoting Truth Are
Right In Our Wheelhouse
On the occasion of Sunshine Week, observed March 13-19, The Newtown Bee is reminded of the preamble to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the first such legislation in the country, that was enacted on October 1, 1975.
It states: “The legislature finds and declares that secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy, that the people have a right to be fully informed of the action taken by public agencies in order that they may retain control over the instruments they have created; that the people do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them; that the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know...”
After serving in US Congress during the Watergate era and campaigning on a platform of promoting freedom of information, Ella T. Grasso was elected governor of this state in 1975. It was Grasso, along with Connecticut’s newspapers, who spearheaded the drive to ensure creation of our state FOI Act.
The legislature passed the law not only in response to the public’s pervasive mistrust of government in the aftermath of Watergate, but also with the realization that trust and confidence in government depend on a balanced disclosure of information. That is where your local newspaper, along with its journalist partners and qualified news organizations across the state and beyond come in.
Speaking from a hyper-local perspective, The Bee has been watching over the shoulders of local and state officials for over 140 years, reporting on their work for good or ill — mostly for good — so our readers and the community could learn from a qualified, independent, and professional team of journalists that shady political and government activities get virtually no traction in their home town.
In fact, over the past two decades, The Bee has only been pushed to file state FOI appeals on a handful of occasions, with only a few making their way through the process and ending up in front of the FOI Commission. This gives us not only a valid reason to celebrate Sunshine Week, but also to point out that our community has generally been blessed with elected and appointed political officials, municipal employees, and taxpayer-supported agencies that strive to do good — with transparency and virtually no evidence to suggest wrongdoing or prompting a need to demand information or documentation through an FOI appeal.
Some may disagree, but from an information perspective, the sun is almost always shining in Newtown.
In closing, we are reminded by our colleague and New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman that the mission of Sunshine Week is to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The sunshine reference is attributed to US Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who famously wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
This is the idea behind state public record and open meeting laws, as well as our federal Freedom of Information Act. Government transparency is a non-partisan principle that transcends who’s in office or which political party is in control.
Freedom of information, or “sunshine,” laws open up government and empower people through information — and in Newtown, it is Newtown Bee journalists who serve as our community’s first line of defense whenever information about local government business is being obfuscated.