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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunshine Week ends – but principle doesn’t

Telegraph Editorial

Sunshine Week is now over – at least officially.

No more stories with the logo depicting the sun peeking out from behind the capitol dome that proclaims: “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know.”

No more “In This Series” boxes reminding readers of what we’ve published so far and plan to publish in the coming days.

No more Sunshine Week op-eds displacing our regular columnists on the Opinion page.

The reality, of course, is our commitment to the long-standing principles of Sunshine Week – an open government accessible to all the people it governs – is a 365-day responsibility. To think otherwise would be tantamount to saying we only honor our mothers on the second Sunday in May.

So as we’ve done since the inception of Sunshine Week in 2005, The Telegraph dedicated a considerable amount of space on our news and Opinion pages last week to stories related to the public’s right to know and – perhaps more importantly – stories based on access to government data that were only possible because of open-government laws.

In all, we published 12 news stories and eight Opinion page pieces, several accompanied by detailed charts and online databases. Among the highlights:

 • A story that examined what is public and what is private under the New Hampshire Retirement System, which is of particular interest this year given legislative attempts to reform the state pension system.

Currently, retirement system officials only will release a list with names of people in the system (no addresses) or a list containing the adjusted annual pension benefits for more than 24,000 retirees broken down by the type of benefit and whether they worked for the state or a particular municipality.

 • A Nashua story that looked at severance payments made to former city employees dating to 2008, accompanied by a chart that listed every transaction by name, date, department and amount.

 • Another city story, which we publish each year during Sunshine Week, that reported on the city’s highest-paid employees in 2010 – by salary and total earnings.

The story was accompanied by a searchable online database that allowed readers to search by name, salary, gross income, position or department.

 • A regional piece that examined the number of concealed weapons permits issued during the past four years by police departments in Greater Nashua. The story ran with a town-by-town chart that showed the number of permits issued each year, the percentage increase, residents per permit and permits per capita.

All of these stories have one important thing in common: Publication was assured only because state open-government laws require that this information be made available to the public – not just to us, but to any citizen who asks.

And while we suspect some individuals would have preferred not to have seen their names published for all to see, how city officials deal with sick time, overtime and severance is an important pubic policy issue that gets to the heart of how government treats the hard-earned tax dollars of its residents.

Yes, Sunshine Week is officially over – but not for us. And it shouldn’t be for you, either.