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posted: 3/19/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Celebrate sunshine laws that keep government in the light

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

We stayed up all night delivering you election results. Hopefully, you took the time to vote. But neither our job nor yours is over.

In order to ensure that those we select to represent us do so in a forthright and effective manner, we must be vigilant about checking up on them. It's not just Election Week, it's Sunshine Week -- the week each year during which those of us who deliver the news in all its forms reflect on the laws that allow for public inspection of much of the work that government does. Why should you care? Because without transparency in government, our country and our communities would look a lot different.

Much of what we in the news media do helps you to have more informed opinions and prepares you to play an active role in our democracy. It's critical that you know how your government works, how it spends your money and how it serves your needs. Or, how it sometimes fails.

In recent years, Illinois has done much to improve the transparency and openness required of governments and government officials, but challenges still remain. A lack of uniformity in the requirements regarding how financial data must be released and displayed can enable agencies -- whether purposely, naively or just sloppily -- to bury information in reports or on their websites where it may be difficult for citizens to find. Too often, for another example, public employee contracts, negotiated behind closed doors, aren't released for public review and comment until after they've been adopted.

Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin is a testament to the Daily Herald's ongoing commitment to exploring how your tax dollars are being used. He and other Daily Herald reporters regularly apply Illinois Freedom of Information Act rules to help you find, say, how much your town pays its employees or how much it spends on everything from convention travel to road improvements.

There are always ways in which those who use your tax money can be more open. Consider:

• Just last week, Griffin's column looked at what many would consider excessive expenses paid to College of Lake County board members.

• While nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois operate under the umbrella of the sunshine laws, some tax-supported agencies are not. The Illinois Municipal League, court clerks, associations for various government bodies (such as the Township Officials of Illinois) are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, despite operating with tax money.

Governmental transparency is on the lips of many candidates at election time. But the subject too easily can be left there. While openness is a duty of government and government officials, it is also something that as a practical matter, citizens and news media too often must fight to achieve. Tuesday's primary reminds us all of our duty to identify and select candidates to serve us in government. Sunshine Week reminds us that it doesn't end there. It's our job -- and yours -- to hold those we elect to the promises of open government they've so righteously proclaimed.

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