The next few days mark Sunshine Week, a national effort aimed at underscoring the importance of government transparency. The week coincides with the birthday of President James Madison, a force behind the U.S. Bill of Rights and advocate of the concept of government checks and balances.
Freedom to access public information is a fundamental aspect of citizens’ ability to exercise checks and balances at all levels of public service. The notion that ‘Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant’ is evident when one considers that many people tend to perform to a higher and more honest standard when they know their behavior is under observation.
Unfortunately, the media, long the standard bearer for keeping government officials honest, has undergone a dramatic change over the past generation. Print, television and radio journalism have largely moved away from deep dives into transparency issues, which can require considerable time and effort. Instead, they’re more focused on shorter, sexier stories that generate webpage clicks.
If the traditional media can’t or won’t keep government officials accountable by helping citizens stay informed, some in public office may feel emboldened to cut corners or even engage in malfeasance.
Nevada Policy strives to shine a light on the workings of government, but just as important is the effort of Nevadans across the state who take the time and effort to serve as citizen watchdogs. By filing Open Records requests, state residents can do their part of keep government honest and above board.
One of the most important parts of government accountability is knowing how those in government spend your tax dollars. If you’re interested in being part of Nevada Policy’s transparency mission, you can visit transparentnevada.com. There you can find the state’s largest database for government employee pension and salary information.
The freedom to access information – including the activities of those we elect and those who are appointed to government positions – is essential to the health of our civic institutions, from school boards to the statehouse.
We need also be on the watch for efforts to throw roadblocks – intended or unintended – in the way of transparency efforts. For example, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department raised the cost for providing body cam footage from $45 an hour to $192 in 2019, then increased it to $280 an hour in 2020, and boosted it again last year, to $288. That’s significantly higher than other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Las Vegas Police Department officials have said the price hike was due to an increase in manpower costs.
Nevada law allows fees to be charged, but not to exceed the actual cost of producing the record. There is question as to whether the state’s open records laws defines “actual cost” as including the salary of employees, who are paid regardless of whether there are record requests.
What is not in question is that charging significant fees for public information has a chilling effect on the public’s ability to keep tabs on government and government employees.
With the mainstream media experiencing unprecedented changes in how it operates, having Nevada Policy and state residents help pick up the slack is a critical component of good governance in the Silver State.
Thanks to technology, we live in a time when it has never been easier to request public documents. But it’s up to Nevadans to protect and take advantage of this opportunity. With elections coming please ask every candidate where they stand on open records. Let them know you value government transparency.