March 14-20 is known in the news media profession as Sunshine Week, or as I like to call it, the 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 private-sector workers and taxpayers, the majority of whom don’t care that many of their public officials do their best to keep the Mushroom Principle one step ahead of the Sunshine laws.

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/.

In a previous Sunshine Week column, Jim Zachary of the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, wrote: “Newspapers have a long legacy of holding government accountable, and operating as the Fourth Estate. 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.”

I agree.

As an editor who’s written about Sunshine laws, public records and open meetings protocol for more than 25 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. (Did you happen to notice the too-little, too-late corrections today by the WAPO and CNN for their inaccurate Georgia reporting on President Donald J. Trump? Of course not.)

I've shared this before, but on the local level, one public official who’s always encouraged the press 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.

Granted, I did write a column in 2015 under the headline: "It's time to abolish Ohio's public records laws; turn out the lights on the Sunshine Laws, too."

In my occasionally cynical vein, I surmised that it’s time that the state of Ohio does away with its archaic public records laws and its so-called Sunshine Laws. In fact, it is past time.

Let’s face it: You – as voters and taxpayers – do not need to know what your elected office-holders are up to. It’s none of your business. Really. Just trust them. They know best. (What scandals?! Certainly not in Ohio. Ahem.)

For more than 25 years, I have written those obligatory newspaper editorials and columns in support of the public’s right to their own information. I’ve written the Sunshine Week columns every March, even though in Ohio the sun doesn’t shine until May or June – unless you are selling or leasing your land to become a "solar farm," in which case southern Ohio supposedly is sunnier than south Florida. By the way, how many former or current public officials have owned property that has been sold or leased to these new "solar farm" operations? I can name at least two.

For the record, I have championed the public’s right to their public records for a long, long time. But I was wrong. Public records are none of your business. Period. Yes, you paid for them. And you paid people to make them available under Ohio law. But really, who are we, as members of the taxpaying public, to seek our own records? The nerve.

The availability of public records is, of course, a relatively simple concept. Records are kept and maintained by public officials in order that members of the public may have access to said records. The concept is simple; until someone complicates it for no good reason.

The Ohio Revised Code addresses denial of public record requests: (3) If a request is ultimately denied, in part or in whole, the public office or the person responsible for the requested public record shall provide the requester with an explanation, including legal authority, setting forth why the request was denied. If the initial request was provided in writing, the explanation also shall be provided to the requester in writing. The explanation shall not preclude the public office or the person responsible for the requested public record from relying upon additional reasons or legal authority in defending an action commenced under division (C) of this section. (See http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/149.43)

Herein lies the rub: The state really doesn't provide any serious penalty or deterrent for malicious and/or ignorant public officials who deny access to the public's business and records.

So let's stop all the grandstanding on Sunshine Week until local, state and federal governments take it as seriously as we all should. Until then, Sunshine Week carries about as much weight as the cries to end gerrymandering and establish reasonable political districts across the state and nation. (Words full of sound and fury, signifying nothing...)

In some places in government, the sun never shines. Record-setting executive orders in 2021 by a confused commander in chief come to mind.

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A statesman in the 'Show Me State'

• Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer is becoming one of the more admirable members of the People's House. His column this week (online at https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/Opinions/Opinion/Article/The-far-left-to-do-list/4/22/66205) begins: "Defunding the police, taxpayer-funded elections, restricting Second Amendment rights, and a massive partisan spending package disguised as coronavirus relief. These are the bills the House of Representatives have prioritized this year."

Someone asked me why The Highland County Press publishes Rep. Luetkemeyer's columns. Fair enough. Rep. Luetkemeyer has been more consistent in providing significant information vital to taxpayers and freedom-loving Americans than any Ohio member of Congress in recent months.

In fact, Luetkemeyer's House website has been one of my "go-to" sources for information. For gun owners and champions of the Second Amendment – without which, the First Amendment and most others are pointless – Luetkemeyer deserves support.

He points out in his most-recent column: "(Last) week the House passed two bills that would limit a law-abiding citizen’s ability to buy a gun. If these bills became law, they would criminalize activities that are common practices among law-abiding gun owners and create arbitrary delays on background checks, hindering millions of Americans’ Second Amendment right to defend themselves and their families. Taking law enforcement officers off our streets and making it difficult to exercise Second Amendment rights is not only irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous."

Indeed. For hunters, shooters and gun enthusiasts among us, you might want to wake up and contact your representatives in Congress. More importantly, you might want to contact any moderate Democrat you can find. I'd start with the Marine from Maine, Rep. Jared Golden and perhaps Sen. Joe (keep the filibuster until there's too much pressure on me) Manchin in West Virginia. Democrats need to wake up against woke-ness. Soon.

The only thing at stake is the Bill of Rights.

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Another job-killer in Congress

• Another clue that most House Democrats have never owned a private business: The PRO Act, which passed the U.S. House on a mostly partisan vote, could eliminate most forms of independent contracting and freelancing – potentially impacting as many as 59 million freelance workers who represent 36 percent of the total U.S. workforce. The majority of independent contractors said the union-backed bill could “negatively impact their livelihood." No kidding.

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Good work, Counselor Collins

• A tip of the ball cap this week to local jurors and Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins, all of whom no doubt struggled to do what was right during a recent three-day trial in Highland County Common Pleas Court involving the endangerment of two young children.

Highland County Press managing editor Caitlin Forsha has already reported most of the sad and sordid details of the case. There's no need to rehash it here.

But I will say this to anyone who fails to appreciate the wonders of a newborn child and who fails to love that child: Well, there's a special place for you. Don't look upward, though. The skies are raining tears.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.