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Cities celebrate Sunshine Week

Cities across our state are committed to encouraging open government and engaging citizens as active participants in governing their communities. Thousands of city officials work hard every day to ensure citizens have access to public records and open meetings, and to cultivate a culture of citizen participation that makes Washington’s government one of the most accessible in the nation.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. So it is only fitting that city officials stand up to celebrate this week as well.

The Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act adopted by citizens 43 years ago have become the cornerstone for open government in our state. City officials work tirelessly to uphold these laws and promote citizen involvement in government in numerous ways that go beyond just these laws. Think about all of the opportunities cities try to provide for citizen involvement; from traditional budget workshops, to websites, to twitter accounts, to online work order reporting, to e-permitting, to Facebook pages, to park planning open houses, to….well you get the idea. In celebrating Sunshine Week, we should not only celebrate open government laws, but also all of the other untold and unheralded opportunities for citizen participation in their government.

Unfortunately, too often cities are only recognized when they are accused of violating open government laws. Cities need to stand up and talk about our commitment to open government and shed some much needed sunshine on the time and effort that we dedicate to upholding the law, as well as all of the other efforts that go into engaging citizens in our own government. We need to talk about the resources that are spent on these efforts just as often as we talk about the resources spent on public safety and street maintenance.

Open government benefits everyone – citizens and city officials alike. We all need to do our part to ensure open and engaged participation in government. To do that we must talk about it and talk about how we can do more. Open government is not static – it didn’t start in 1972 with the passage of the Public Disclosure Act – and it will not improve without accommodating changes that reflect our changing communities. In 1972 typewriters were the norm. Today it is Twitter accounts and YouTube channels. We all need to change with the times. Cities need to work even harder to engage busy citizens on their terms with tools like social media. We also need to talk about how to ensure that our 43 year old open government laws keep up with today’s changing environment. In today’s world we need to talk about open government in the context of transparency, but also in terms of balancing issues around cybersecurity and protecting privacy. We shouldn’t fear that kind of change. We all must remain committed to open government and be willing to talk about ways we can improve our efforts and our laws to best serve the interest of the public.

So let’s all celebrate Sunshine Week by looking for ways we can be more open and transparent – what records can we post electronically that we haven’t yet and how we can use open data in new ways to find new solutions and policies. Let’s look for more opportunities to enhance involvement in our government – ask citizens to follow your city’s twitter account and check out a public meeting (even if they just watch a webcast). And, let’s all work together to find ways to ensure that our open government laws remain fresh and relevant for a new generation. We are all open government advocates and we all are responsible to ensuring transparent government remains.