This is just the right time for citizens to think about their right to know

There is no better time to think about open government and transparency than in the middle of an unprecedented health crisis. After all, the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic are affecting all our lives right now, and will continue to do so as the full effects become clear down the line. In every nation that has dealt with this virus already, the way its government has handled it has made a difference in its spread and the outcomes for those who have contracted it. And in those places where information was made readily available and open to all, even if it took a while before they understood the severity of the crisis they were facing, the population understood better what they were dealing with and how to best manage it.

Here in the United States, our federal government has not been as forthcoming and open as it should have been from the start of the epidemic. Glossing over the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 and dragging out the timing for widely supplying tests for the virus only created the uncertain atmosphere in which the markets have destabilized and the nation’s relationship with the rest of the world has been compromised.

Sunshine Week is March 15 – 21, the week when the News Leaders Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and media across the country, join in the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community. A public health event is just the moment when we need to appreciate what government can do for our communities, yet still hold fast to the idea that government must also be accountable and open to those it serves. Keep that in mind as the nation, and our region, deals with the coronavirus threat and finds the best ways to mitigate it at the local, regional, state and let’s hope federal levels of government.

Below are guidelines for understanding and taking action on your right to know.

This Sunshine Week, know your rights to government information with tips from the transparency experts at MuckRock:

1) Know the law: Federal agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but each state has its own laws (For examples, it’s the Freedom of Information Law in New York, and New Jersey you file an Open Public Records Act request, or OPRA) . Look up which rules apply — in some states, for example, legislative records are exempt from disclosure. Cite the correct law in your requests.

2) Keep it specific: FOIA can be used to dig up all sorts of information, but you have to ask for something that exists. Avoid asking questions; instead, request documents or data an agency would likely have that would answer your questions.

3) Work together: Most records officers are happy to discuss requests. There’s also a community of requesters eager to help: Look up your local National Freedom of Information Coalition chapter, browse requests others have filed publicly on MuckRock and other online resources:

• The Reporters Committee Open Government Guide: https://www.rcfp.org/open-government-guide/

• MuckRock’s state-by-state guides: https://www.muckrock.com/place/

• NFOIC’s map of state Freedom of Information organizations: https://www.nfoic.org/organizations/map

• State of Connecticut resources are www.ctfog.org and www.ctfoicouncil.nfoic.net/ccfoi-news/

• State of New York resource is www.dos.ny.gov/about/foil.html

Muckrock info courtesy of www.sunshineweek.org.


 

Lakeville Journal and Millerton News offices closed during COVID-19 emergency

With the area schools closed, many cancellations of events and the directive being a minimum of direct contact with others, The Lakeville Journal Company has made the decision to set up a system of remote work schedules so the majority of our people can manage their work from home. During this time, all of our staff will be available through the same voice and email communication, and the newspapers will continue to publish until further notice.

Contact editor@lakevillejournal.com or editor@millertonnews.com for editorial news, cynthiah@lakevillejournal.com for obituaries, legals@lakevillejournal.com for legal notices, classified@lakevillejournal.com for classified line ads and advertising@lakevillejournal.com for display advertising.

Phone for The Lakeville Journal is 860-435-9873; for The Millerton News, it is 860-435-9873, ext. 608.

Stay safe, calm and healthy and use caution during this challenging time of COVID-19 risk. Keep us informed of any news you want to see reported on during this time frame and beyond.

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