Last Sunday, Americans set their clocks ahead one hour for daylight saving time. Sunday also marked the start of another nationwide initiative to increase the amount of light — and enlightenment — U.S. citizens enjoy: Sunshine Week 2011. Launched in 2005, the weeklong media project aims to encourage public dialogue on the First Amendment, freedom of information and government transparency.
Vermonters want to believe their state and local governments are accessible and forthcoming — and their citizen legislature, public-records law and direct, participatory town-meeting democracy certainly give that impression.
Truth is, the Green Mountain State’s record on government transparency has been abysmal in recent years. A 2008 study by the Better Government Association ranked Vermont 49th in the nation based on five areas of law: open records, whistle-blower protections, campaign finance, open meetings and conflicts of interest. In 2007, a study by the BGA and the National Freedom of Information Coalition gave Vermont a D grade for its overall responsiveness to open-records requests.
The Sunshine Review, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks government transparency, has a more favorable view of Vermont. It gave state government a B grade, but counties received an F, and cities and school districts earned an “incomplete” for their efforts to shine a light.
Events in the last year — including the Burlington Telecom fiasco, court battles to gain access to investigations into misbehaving cops and stonewalled requests for police videotapes of government officials’ traffic stops — all demonstrate the need for more vigilance on government transparency.
This week, Seven Days acknowledges those groups and individuals who are pushing for greater openness and access, as well as those whose actions keep us all in the dark.
Who’s pushing for open government and who’s leaving us in the dark? Click the graphic below to see a full-size version.
Graphic layout by Celia Hazard.