Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

March 16, 2014

OUR VIEW: You have a right to know

Welcome to Sunshine Week, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

The observance began as National Freedom of Information Day, originally observed on March 16. That’s the birth date of James Madison, the man generally regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution and author of the First Amendment.

In simple terms, freedom of information is the right to know what your government is doing — how it spends your tax dollars, how it creates and implements policy, how it makes decisions that affect you.

Let’s say, for example, that you want a copy of the Logansport city budget. You have the right to walk into the City Building and ask for it. And the city has to give it to you, or it has to explain why it can’t.

If you request a public record in person, the governmental entity has 24 hours to respond to your request. If you make the request by mail, it has seven days.

In considering your request, the government office can’t ask why you want the information. It can’t even ask who you are.

The law mandating all that — the Freedom of Information Act — played a huge part in one of Indiana’s biggest stories last year. Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco filed a request for emails exchanged between former education chief Tony Bennett and his staff members showing they’d altered the formula for determining school systems’ A-F letter grades.

The story triggered a legislative review of the entire grading system. While it’s still in place this year, a new formula is being developed to use for the upcoming school year.

If all you want to do is examine the document, you have the right to do that right there in the office. If you want a copy, the office does have the option of charging you a reasonable fee.

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