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#SunshineWeek: It's your right to know what your government is up to

The Ukrainian flag flies outside Syracuse City Hall entrance Syracuse, NY, Feb. 28 (Photo by Max Mimaroglu)
Maxwell Mimaroglu
A street view of the exterior of Syracuse's city hall building.

Transparency in government allows the public to keep an eye on how elected officials represent their interests and spend their tax dollars. National Sunshine Week aims to shine a light on the public's rights to access this information. March 13 to 19 marks this year’s annual celebration of access to government.

Paul Wolf, president of the New York Coalition for Open Government, said the week-long celebration helps remind citizens that government officials work for them.

“You as a member of the public have a right to know what your government officials are doing. You have a right to observe them doing their meetings in conducting the public’s business, and you have a right to obtain information from them.”

Wolf said that includes access to any document officials produce while representing the public — from contracts that spend public money to emails discussing a city issue. The coalition has pushed to make it easier to track what officials discuss at meetings. A new law mandates documents must be posted online at least 24 hours before a meeting.

“It’s just the basic right of information. If I’m going to observe my town hall or city council meeting or look on the agenda to see if there’s anything of interest for me, I should be able to see the documents, the same documents that the town board members or the city council members are voting on.”

Another new law also mandates meeting minutes be posted online. Citizens can file a records request to obtain more public documents from local, state and federal agencies.