Guest editorial by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos for Sunshine Week 2019
Regardless of the difference in responsibilities of their positions, from local select boards to the governor to the president of the United States, including me as Vermont’s secretary of state, we all share a responsibility to uphold the public’s trust by being transparent and accountable in everything we do. March 10 to 16 is Sunshine Week, a national celebration of access to public information and government transparency.
Ensuring that government is open and transparent is the only way to build this trust. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword or something we should do as government officials. It is enshrined in the Vermont Constitution under Article 6: That all power being originally inherent in and consequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.
We must never forget that in government, our boss is the public. Everything we do and every record we make ultimately belongs to them. Without transparency, Vermonters would not have the tools they need to hold public officials accountable.
The media is included as members of the public. Vermont journalists have as much of a right to public records as any individual; journalists play an important role as the public’s watchdog, informing and educating. The vast majority of journalists support letting the sun shine in on government. A free press is an essential partner in accountability through transparency.
Vermont’s open meeting and public record laws are not difficult to understand, even if sometimes burdensome for public officials. Unfortunately, not every government official shares this perspective, and oftentimes costly legal fees prevent ordinary Vermonters from pursuing access to the records that they are entitled to.
So, for Sunshine Week this year I would like to acknowledge that from time to time, a few rain clouds may block the sun from shining down. However, as government officials, we have to do our part by throwing open those shades and turning on a few more lights when it gets dark. We can’t sleep on transparency; good government demands it and the people we serve deserve it.