Tools for public political participation

"Journalism, at least journalism in the public interest, is not a business. It is not an industry. It is a public act supported by a business." -- Jay Rosen of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy

The Modesto Bee publicized some excellent tools for public political participation last week. We include synopses of the articles below, which include links to organizations focused on public access to governmental information. The Modesto Bee celebrated Sunshine Week in fine style. Unfortunately it was a small party, at least in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where we regularly monitor the two other Bees, the Stockton Record and the Tracy Press, as well as the Merced Sun-Star.

Given the corruption prevailing in Merced government, where Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, continues to squat in the county Administration Building, we can understand the local establishment’s disinterest in encouraging public activism if it isn’t correct rightwing thuggery like that inflicted on citizens opposing the Wal-Mart distribution center by the latest crew of local spokesgoons. Their view is that you should get out of town if your soul isn’t recorded with the County has having been legally sold to a corporation.

If you are tired of the local goon squad, here are some tool for public political participation.

Bill Hatch

Modesto Bee
Mark Vasche column: We won't let the sun go down on public's right to open government...Mark Vasche, Bee Editor
Sunshine Week turned out to be anything but sunny — and quite appropriately was a week of unsettled weather, with everything from gray, gloomy sky to chilly temperatures to showers and hail and, in some areas, even snow. What better way to illustrate the status of open government at the local, state and national levels. ...during Sunshine Week, openness is critical to our government of, by and for the people. And, because "watchdogging" is one of the most important things newspapers do; it is a historic role and responsibility we take very seriously. Jay Rosen of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy explains it: "Journalism, at least journalism in the public interest, is not a business. It is not an industry. It is a public act supported by a business."

Renew commitment to open government...Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware...3-16-06

This is Sunshine Week and a good time to look at California's commitment to open government. Here are 10 problems with our public forum and whistle-blower laws and some long-overdue solutions:...
1 Needless Mystery about Closed Sessions:... Solution:...
2 Done Deals in Settlements:... Solution:...
3 They've Got a Secret: ...Solution:...
4 Too Clueless to Hold Accountable:... Solution:...
5 Police State of Denial, Part I:... Solution:...
6 Police State of Denial, Part II: ...Solution:...
7 Secrecy for Effective Science Policy:... Solution:...
8 Putting Teeth in Transparency Law:...Solution:...
9 Making Illegal Court Secrecy Pay Its Way: ...Solution:...
10 A Tale of Two Lawyers:... Solution:...

Polls: Public values open government...Bee Starr and News Services...3-16-06

"Polls are people, and, once more, the people have demonstrated that (President) Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool most of them for very long," said Hodding Carter III, honorary chairman of Sunshine Week. "They know that information is power in a democracy...
Related Resources
Scripps Survey Research Center poll
Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University poll

State agencies get 'F' for access...Bee Staff and News Services...3-15-06

A survey of 31 state agencies found public records violations at each agency, ranging from illegally charging for copies to taking too long to release basic public information.

White House inaugurated era of secrecy, critics claim...David Westphal, Bee Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Working at the National Archives in the late 1990s, historian William Burr stumbled onto a 1962 telegram written by diplomat George Kennan about China's nuclear program. Today, the original document has been removed from the archive... Between 1999 and 2004, the number of documents ordered sealed annually nearly doubled, to 15.6 million, according to the Information Security Oversight Office. Meanwhile, declassifying documents has slowed dramatically — from 127 million pages in 1999, to 28 million pages in 2004.

Central Valley Shines...Adam Aston...3-13-06
With a few exceptions, open records provided in informal Bee survey

Merced woman guards public projects process

Now open to the public...Lorena Anderson...3-12-06
State laws make most government document available to all who ask

Message from Bee Editor and Senior Vice President Mark S. Vasché

Government watchdog follows the money trail

Paper Trails

Tips on making a request for a public document

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied

Eschew obfuscation - write it so we get it...3-12-06

The meetings of elected bodies should be easily accessible to the public — in time, location and, whenever possible, through broadcasts on TV or the Internet. Likewise, the records of government agencies should be available to anyone who wants them, without undue delays, costs or intimidation. But there's another dimension to open government: The way in which government communicates should be understandable to the average citizen. Very often, it is not. Consider these examples:

AP shines light on public information...AP...3-12-06

Tom Curley, The Associated Press' president and chief executive officer, has been an outspoken advocate in the campaign against government secrecy. He discussed this year's Sunshine Week initiative spearheaded by media organizations. Q & A's.

Open Government Resources on the web...3-10-06
California - California Attorney General open government page - Californians Aware - California First Amendment Coalition - California Newspaper Publishers Association