March 17, 2013

OUR VIEW: Shining a light on Sunshine Week

— It might not be spring for another week, but there was plenty of sunshine last week. The type of sunshine that brings light to the back rooms of public offices and opens up the government process to the people it serves.

We’re talking about Sunshine Week. It’s a national effort held annually that raises awareness of public access laws. Though it’s promoted in large part by newspapers and other media outlets, it’s really not about us. Journalists are well-versed on what information is available to the public and see keeping it that way as an important part of their job.

So, that means Sunshine Week is about you. It’s about teaching citizens that they have a right to information. That they have a right to be informed about how their taxes are spent and about what’s happening in their community. And the reason for the national observation every year is to make sure you keep those rights.

But first you have to know what your rights are.

You have the right to view any “public record,” which is described as any record created, received, retained, maintained or filed by or with a public agency. This includes records created for or on behalf of a public agency by an outside contractor.

If you ask for a document in person, the office has 24 hours to respond to your request. If you make the request by mail, it has seven days. If they don’t give you the requested document, they’re required to tell you why. You have a right to appeal that decision with the Indiana Public Access Counselor.

If you want a copy of the document, the office is allowed to charge you a reasonable fee. If you just want to examine the public record, you have the right to do that right there in the office.

With the exception of few specific criminal background cases, you don’t have to disclose who you are or why you want to see the document.

To learn your full rights to public information, visit

We encourage everyone to learn their rights and then put them to good use.

Happy hunting.