From Sunday, March 11, through Saturday, March 17, we celebrate and honor Sunshine Week.
For those unfamiliar with this event, Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
Sunshine Week was launched by the American Society of News Editors in March 2005. This nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.
Though created by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing and why.
What could we celebrate? I immediately think about state Controller John Chiang’s efforts to help citizens be cognizant of the cost of our local governments. For the second year, the state controller’s website provides employee salaries, wages and benefits for county governments and special districts. Chiang began posting this data after the Los Angeles Times broke its stories about the extravagant and exorbitant salaries in Bell, Calif.
Locally, I can acknowledge Idyllwild Fire and Pine Cove Water districts initiatives to post their employee data on their websites.
The fire department also has begun posting its major contracts online. For example, the dispatch contract with Riverside County is available at the IFPD website. The contract with interim Chief Mike Sherman is also available.
The actions are fully consistent with open government and transparency, but I can’t commend the federal government for keeping us informed.
University of Alabama at Birmingham health researchers have recently reported that the Daylight Saving Time change is not necessarily good for your health.
The Monday and Tuesday after Daylight Saving begins has a 10-percent increase in the risk of a heart attack. In October, after Daylight Saving, the immediate days indicate a 10-percent decrease.
The government enacts the law, but doesn’t share the consequences with citizens.
Locally, I also see the failure to comply with the president’s direction on opening government.
Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama sent a memorandum to all federal departments and agencies. In it he wrote, “At the heart of [the FOIA] is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.
“The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. ...
The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public.”
If the Forest Service is taking actions to reduce the staffing on our local ranger district, particularly if it involves firefighters, the public on the Hill should be apprised of these actions.
Rumors have been rampant since August. During the fall, the Forest Service said there were no staffing changes, but it couldn’t provide staffing total for the San Bernardino National Forest or its ranger districts.
Now the rumors have resurfaced, decisions were made in November on staffing levels, and the spirit of the president’s direction has, not only been ignored, but trampled.
Support for the agency withers when its leadership remains aloof and closed.