This past week was Sunshine Week, otherwise known as an annual effort in futility that always gets lost in the midst of St. Patrick’s Day and the NCAA basketball tournament.

Sunshine Week serves only one real purpose, anyway. And that’s to send a friendly reminder to folks who don’t care that many of their public officials do their best to keep the Mushroom Principle one step ahead of the Sunshine laws.

Two years ago this week, David Pepper while campaigning for Ohio attorney general, introduced his “Top 10 Ways to Bring Sunshine to Columbus." Pepper’s proposal didn’t have anything to do with global warming, either. It was a common-sense approach for a more transparent government. It went nowhere.

Among Pepper’s proposals:

• Disclose on Ohio.gov the list of all appointments to state commissions, boards and other important decision-making bodies doing the public’s work. List all appointees’ names and key information, and list all vacancies to these commissions.

• Establish a paper trail for bid processes that includes merit-based evaluations and written recommendations; require those bidding to do work for the attorney general’s office to disclose all contributions as part of the bid process.

• Require the Ohio Ethics Commission to provide online access to financial disclosure statements filed by statewide officeholders, including the governor, attorney general and all other local government officials.

• File amicus briefs on behalf of transparency with the Ohio Supreme Court, which is making important decisions on Ohio “sunshine” laws virtually every term.

• Re-energize the training and education of all elected officials – particularly newly elected officials – on sunshine, public records and open meetings laws.

• The Ohio Statehouse could use a lot of sunshine. Since the Statehouse has invested to add camera technology to all Statehouse committee hearing rooms, all those committee meetings should be televised and archived. Laws are currently made in secret, with no fingerprints on often controversial amendments or spending, and no trace when outside groups or lobbyists are doing the law-writing.

• Demand more transparency and accountability when public money is used for traditionally public services, such as charter schools, for-profit prisons, and other private and non-profit entities that receive tax dollars.

• Provide more transparency when economic incentives are given to private companies and non-profit organizations.

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Each year, the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides new information and best practices for public officials at http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/.

This month, a column by Jim Zachary caught my attention. Mr. Zachary is the editor of the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times, the director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, and a member of the board of directors of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

Mr. Zachary rightfully charges that newspapers have a responsibility in keeping public records public and open meetings open.

“Newspapers have a long legacy of holding government accountable, and operating as the Fourth Estate,” Mr. Zachary writes. “Sadly, many newspapers have abandoned that role, leaving it up to the general public to police local governments.

“Any newspaper that does not defend the First Amendment and champion open government is not worth the paper it is printed on or the ink that fills its pages.”

That last point is worth repeating: “Any newspaper that does not defend the First Amendment and champion open government is not worth the paper it is printed on or the ink that fills its pages.”

Indeed.

As an editor who’s written about Sunshine laws, public records and open meetings protocol for more than 20 consecutive years, I greatly appreciate Mr. Zachary’s comments. Too often these days some media spend more time on political propaganda than defending the First Amendment.

Is it any wonder, as Mr. Zachary concludes: “It is clear the public is losing confidence in government at all levels. The only way for local governments to gain that confidence back is to be open and transparent in the way they conduct the people’s business.”

Locally, one public official who’s always encouraged the Fourth Estate in its role as government watchdog is the Hon. Judge Kevin L. Greer.

Many times when Judge Greer has administered the oath of office for a local official, he has purposely mentioned the press and its oversight role. The judge has told more than one new office-holder that this oversight is an important function and can make him or her a better public servant.

I agree. (I also think it’s admirable that Judge Greer is selective as to whom he will swear into office.)

Highland County taxpayers and residents are fortunate to have people like Judge Greer – and some others, to be sure – in office. While this newspaper has, at times, identified some issues of a lack of transparency among a public official or two, those who truly appreciate and respect their oath of office far outnumber those who don’t.

And intelligent readers usually know the difference.

For more on Sunshine Week, go to http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/ or do an advance search at www.highlandcountypress.com and type in Sunshine Week.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.