We have a Sunshine Week winner!

A Washington state woman who used the courts to force the disclosure of public records that revealed corruption in her county auditor’s office is the winner of the 2011 American Society of News Editors Local Heroes contest.

Gloria Howell of Stevenson, Wash., is one of three citizens recognized by ASNE in its national contest honoring individuals who fought tirelessly last year to make their state or local public institutions more open and accessible. The announcement of the Local Heroes kicks off Sunshine Week, which began yesterday.

 

Howell will accept her award at the ASNE Convention, April 6-9, at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina.

 

Howell, a former Stevenson school board member, got involved after her daughter, Angela Moser, was allegedly fired from the Skamania County auditor’s office for theft and because of her concerns about irregularities in ballot processing and alleged misuse of public funds. Howell filed suit to obtain the records. The suit resulted in a criminal investigation by the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office, a criminal referral to the Washington State Attorney General, an investigation and report by the Washington State Auditor, and the resignation of Skamania County Auditor Michael J. Garvison.

 

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A Few Tidbits of Openness On a Sunday….

A nice Sunshine Week column in the Salt Lake Tribune provides an interesting perspective by comparing the writer’s experience with the state’s pre-HB477 law with California’s…

The Cape Code Times launches its Sunshine Week coverage with a great little local audit:

A review by the Cape Cod Times shows compliance with the Massachusetts Public Records Law varies from town to town and, in some cases, from department to department within a town hall.

And don’t get through the day without reading this fabulous column in the Times on how data — and access to it — can improve all of our lives! This is SUCH an important point. When people want to hide data, we need to remind them every time that they are squelching the innovation that made our country great. And we should remind people, over and over, that this data is OURS.

National experts in public records law say the disparity in access is common.

The Times sent four reporters, posing as average citizens, to eight Cape towns on March 3, to see how they would be treated in their pursuit of public documents. They requested one day of the police log, a list of delinquent personal property taxpayers, the school superintendent’s contract and one month’s worth of correspondence — both letters and e-mails — sent to selectmen and town councilors.

And don’t miss this great piece in the Times today on the unpredictable uses of government data in the private sector. The point made here is well worth repeating to the lords of darkness: access can lead to new discoveries, new applications, better technology!

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Some good, some bad in AP Sunshine overview

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The full story is here.

More openness in government. Lawmakers across the country, including the Republicans who took control in many states this year, say they want it. But a survey of all 50 states by the Associated Press has found that efforts to boost openness often are being thwarted by old patterns of secrecy.

The survey did find signs of progress in a number of states, especially in technological efforts to make much more information available online. But there also are restrictions being put in place for recent electronic trends, such as limits on access to officials’ text messages.

The AP analysis was done in conjunction with this year’s Sunshine Week, an annual initiative begun in 2002 to promote greater transparency in government. To observe Sunshine Week, which runs today through March 20, AP journalists in all 50 statehouses reported on both recent improvements and the obstacles that still exist in many places.

First, the positive: In Alabama, where Republicans won control of the Legislature for the first time in 136 years, lawmakers can no longer bring up budget votes without warning. And Budget Committee meetings are now streamed live online. In the past, legislative leaders typically wrote state budgets in private.

“The public and the press can know where the dollars are being spent and why they are being spent,” Republican House Budget Chairman Jay Love said of the new practices.

 

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