As purveyors of information, we feel it's part of the Enterprise's duty and mission to inform our readers of their rights to be informed, if they so choose.
That doesn't mean you have a right to know everyone's private business, of course, but when it comes to public information - information kept by government bodies that represent you and ought to be extensions of you - you have legal rights to observe.
It's timely to talk about that now since this is Sunshine Week, a time set aside for opening minds to open government, in theory and reality.
New York state's Committee on Open Government does a good job of explaining New York's open-government laws on its website (www.dos.state.ny.us/coog). As reporters and editorial writers, we keep this information handy, but these rights pertain to all New York state residents, not just journalists. That's why, as we've done several times in the past, we're sharing this information with you in print.
We'll be publishing feature and opinion articles this week, plus basic information about how the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws work, and sample FOIL records-request and appeal letters.
For starters, though, let's remind ourselves of the principles our state government has committed to. Below are the legislative declarations that begin New York's two main open-government laws:
Freedom of Information Law
"The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government.
"As state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible.
"The people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public's business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article."
Open Meetings Law
"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it."