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Editorial: Ensuring a healthy democracy

Transparency is a word that is often bandied about when people talk about improving government in Greenfield or elsewhere in Franklin County.

The ability of the public to see what’s taking place as government officials examine issues, write regulations and make decisions is the essence of open government.

And open government is a key component of a healthy democracy.

“Sunshine Week” was created in 2005 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to focus attention on open government and the elements that help make it so — public access to government documents is intrinsic in the freedom of information. That focus also turns toward the efforts to not just maintain open government but also the need to create laws that protect that access.

In Massachusetts, there is a bill currently before the Legislature that would improve existing laws when it comes to access to public records. Included in the changes that lawmakers are looking at are updates and revisions for a better fit in today’s electronic world.

Among the ways the bill — sponsored by state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, who is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration — looks to update and improve the public records law would be requiring electronic records to be available electronically and in a format that is easy for the public to use.

The bill would also require agencies to have a designated “records access officer” whose job it would be to help the public with records requests.

While the committee has given this bill a favorable review, having it become law is not necessarily certain. That’s why it is important for the public to lend a hand in contacting their legislators in support of House Bill 3945.

“Government is a trust,” Henry Clay said in 1829, “and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”

In making sure that trust is upheld, it is necessary for the citizens to be well informed and for information to flow freely and for all of us to be vigilant in preserving open government.

Stronger laws regarding public documents, as well as better enforcement of existing laws, is a step forward.

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