This is Sunshine Week, and we’re not talking about the weather.
It’s the week each year that newspapers and journalism websites expound on the essential nature of open-record laws such as the Freedom of Information Act. The Bee files dozens of FOIA requests each year, as many others in our region; without them, there’s plenty we’ll never know.
The Ralph M. Brown Act of 1953 (named after Modesto’s Ralph Brown) is the granddaddy of them all. It requires decision-making bodies to tell the public what they’re going to vote on in advance – outlawing secret meetings, limiting closed-door sessions and providing accurate minutes. Other sunshine laws allow residents to request data, visitor logs and emails and some protect whistleblowers.
Without them, far less about what our cities, counties and state do would ever come to light.
Many people won’t bother celebrating all this sunshine. Some in and out of government would prefer to keep the public in the dark. They won’t break the law, but they do make it difficult for anyone to find out what they’re up to. It’s not just journalists who are impacted.
Some people consider it either a quest or a hobby to keep track of how government actually works, and FOIA requests are their strongest tool. One of those is Emerson Drake, who can be a bit cantankerous, but has a knack for finding items some would rather he not. Drake has an especially difficult time with the city of Modesto. The city’s officials usually live up to the letter of the law, but not its spirit. For instance, when Stanislaus County receives a public record request, a response is usually given within a day or two. Ask the city for similar documents, said Drake, and invariably it takes 14 days – the maximum allowed. Sometimes, the city takes 14 days just to tell him no. The same happens to Bee reporters.
So happy Sunshine Week, long may it shine.
TWO FESTIVALS ARE planned for Modesto this weekend, and we hope one has nothing to do with the other. One is Lucky Fest, as in “luck of the Irish,” as in St. Patrick’s Day, as in pub crawl. Lucky Fest is, well, a drinking festival. There are other activities – human Foosball sounds fun; we’ll pass on Irish cornhole – but a pint or two might be required to get in the mood.
That brings us to Rec Fest, short for Recreation Festival – not Wreck fest, which is something you might do following Lucky Fest if you’re not careful. Rec Fest is centered on enjoying the Tuolumne River with paddling, bike rides, nature walks, kite flying and more. One of the best ways for people to fall in love with the Tuolumne River is to have fun around it and on it – safely. The Tuolumne River Trust is the sponsor. If we’re lucky, there will be more to come.
SPEAKING OF WATER and St. Patrick’s Day, how about the Stockton Diocese’s new bishop, Myron Cotta? Are we reading too much into it, or did the son of a Dos Palos dairy farmer just provide a subtle signal that he understands our great fears over the state’s impending water grab? During his installation homily at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Cotta spoke of the “liquid gold that continues to have an essential impact on California,” then noted our dependence on “the physical element of water to nourish the fertile agricultural region.” From Bishop Cotta’s lips to God’s ear … and then over to the State Water Resources Control Board.
Mike Dunbar is the Opinions Pages editor. 209 578-2325.