Sustained Outrage

Let the sunshine in … to government

sw09_ad_button1.jpg Today marks the start of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to get people talking about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The effort is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and also includes other print, broadcast and online media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

As part of the initiative, teams of journalists conducted a nationwide survey to test the availability of a variety of public information online. The Associated Press put out a national story on the results, and we’ve posted that on the Gazette’s Watchdog Web site. Here’s a bit of the story:

Americans can easily learn about their state songs and state flowers with a quick search on the Internet, but most will have a harder time checking whether their children’s school buses are safe or a local gas station is charging too much.

A summary of the survey is available here, and more detailed chart of state-by-state and regional results is here. In the survey, journalists checked to see if there states offered 20 different kinds of documents — ranging from death certificates and consumer complaints to political contributions and bridge inspections — via the Internet for free.

In West Virginia, only 8 of the 20 categories of documents were available online for free, according to the survey. That’s among the worst scores among the states surveyed.

West Virginia government provides political contribution data, school test scores, disciplinary actions against doctors, Department of Transportation project and contract information, audit reports, teacher certifications, a database of expenditures and death certificates available online, according to the survey.

But, West Virginia does not make available online for free: Disciplinary actions against lawyers, environmental citations and violations, fictitious business name registrations, nursing home inspection reports, consumer complaints, bridge safety inspection reports, child-care inspection reports, personal financial disclosure reports, hospital inspection reports, school bus inspections, school safety reports and gas pump overcharge reports.

For more about Sunshine Week, visit their Web site.  And for a guide to open government in West Virginia, visit the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.