I will not celebrate Sunshine Week 2023.
Since leaving the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office in 2016, I have pursued open government as an avocation rather than a vocation. I have come to understand the importance of Sunshine Week as an annual celebration of public records laws securing the public's right to know how their elected officials conduct the public’s business.
But as a former assistant attorney general, I experienced government from the inside, and I despair for open government in Kentucky.
As darkness descends in our state and local governments, Sunshine Week increasingly feels like a Hallmark holiday — a Valentines Day for those who lament the fact that they have none — a Bosses Day for those who lament the fact that they do.
I cannot celebrate past open government victories — or feign optimism for open government’s future — in Kentucky. Our once enthusiastically endorsed and jealously guarded open records and open meetings laws are, in these times, regularly disregarded, discredited, disdained, and even demonized – in actions if not in words.
No. I won’t celebrate Sunshine Week 2023.
What I will do, instead, is pledge — as a member of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition — to continue the fight to preserve the Kentucky open records and open meetings laws. I will continue to be that nagging voice that alerts the public to threats to our open government laws – threats emanating from out-of-state organizations that share ill-conceived and agenda driven “model” public records legislation, public officials, associations of public officials, legislators, attorneys general, and judges (some whose hands are tied by the combined efforts of all of the above, and some who are hand-picked and endorsed to advance their combined interests in undermining the public’s right to know).
As an esteemed colleague, Frank LoMonte, recently observed:
“It’s important for everyone invested in a well-functioning government — not just the few salaried journalists we have left — to take ownership of the right to be informed. I want everyone to see freedom of access to information as their own personal cause, not a cause that belongs to news reporters, because news reporters can’t win the battle against government secrecy alone.”
I’ll spend Sunshine Week 2023 monitoring last minute legislative maneuvers, assisting those who reach out to better understand their rights under Kentucky’s open records and meetings laws, and speaking (by Zoom) about the threats to open government in Kentucky to a group of concerned citizens.
And while there is breath in my ample body, and/or the synapses are still firing, I won’t give up the fight.
I — WE — owe no less to all of those who came before us and who fought the good fight for Kentucky’s open records and open meetings laws.