By Greg Wilson
Editor/Publisher, Anderson Observer
Media outlets across the country are currently marking National Sunshine Week, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.
The rights of citizens to access of public information is crucial to effective government and sustained community growth. The days have past when citizens are willing to accept the paternalist notion that our elected officials “know best” about what information the public should or should not be allowed to access.
Anderson County government has come a long way in this process. Back in the 1980s when I covered the county as editorial page editor of the Anderson Independent, it more often than not took repeated requests, costly fees and even legal representation to obtain documents which they were clearly required to provide by law under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act. Even then the information provided was often delayed until it was no longer relevant or edited beyond reason.
Fast forward 20 years. Last week the county was recognized as one of only 39 in the nation to receive a perfect score from the Sunshine Week group for their initiatives in openess and transparency in government. (Details here) The county took it a step forward by holding a public meeting Friday night asking for suggestions of what else can be done to make all county information more accessible to individuals and the media. Several suggestions were made and there were promises to act on those suggestions.
Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns, Public Information Officer and Web Manager Angie Stringer, and members of County Council deserve credit for their efforts to make the county a model of transparent government.
There is still much to be done. The public needs to understand their civic duty to be vigilant along with the media to make sure the county continues to stay on the bleeding edge of this issue. County officials need to be given refresher courses every year on the mandates of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, and what it requires. Executive sessions in particular, need to be examined more closely in the bright light of that legislation.
Meanwhile, the county is holding an open public session at 2 p.m. Wednesday for municipalities, counties, school districts, etc., to demonstrate the steps taken to make county date available online and to offer assistance to any government/school entity. The county is also offering to host web sites for local municipalities wishing to post their financial or other information. The session will be held at the historic courthouse.
I hope these groups will take advantage of this session.