Whether it’s addressing your city council, doing genealogical research at a courthouse or wanting to know how much your local school superintendent makes a year, the common element is access to public information. Not only do newspaper reporters routinely seek this knowledge, but so do citizens wishing to be better informed.
The recent annual meeting of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government serves as a reminder of the importance of transparency and accountability. Sharing your views with your board of supervisors during the public comment period, testifying before a General Assembly committee, and knowing where and how to obtain records under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act are cornerstones to our democracy.
“We say we’re a voice for all citizens,” Megan Rhyne, executive director of the coalition, told us after the day-long conference, held at Hampton University. “Information itself is neutral. It’s up to every citizen to come and say this is the information I need to understand the world and make decisions. And we want to make sure that we’re protecting access to information.”
The coalition, formed in 1996, promotes expanded access to public records, meetings and judicial proceedings at the state and local level. The coalition’s board members come from local government, the media, the legal profession, universities and libraries. It’s nonprofit and nonpartisan, and as the coalition’s website explains, “engages citizens to monitor the actions of their state and local governments as part of the democratic process. “ A good government is an open one.
The RTD has been deeply involved with the group since its founding and is an unequivocal supporter of its mission. The media aren’t the only ones who should care about open government. Citizens should as well, and to know how to obtain the information they need to participate. There’s the saying that knowledge is power, but it’s how you use the knowledge that’s powerful.
— Pamela Stallsmith