Public records reveal a wealth of information about government actions.

Journalists seek them, scour them and summarize the facts so you don’t have to.

A 34-page Wyoming Game and Fish investigative report into a fatal grizzly bear attack on Terrace Mountain. A ranger’s report on a hunter who illegally shot a wolf in Grand Teton National Park. An 119-page report by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services on the suffocation deaths of two men in a 12-foot-deep trench. A 195-page report on investigation efforts into the destructive Roosevelt Fire near Bondurant. A report on a $5,000 rescue for three skiers who ducked a boundary rope at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Just in 2019, public records requests by Jackson Hole News&Guide reporters garnered these reports, among many others, that helped us tell more detailed and important stories.

Next week, March 15-21, is “Sunshine Week.” It’s a time to celebrate the federal Freedom of Information Act and Wyoming public records and open meetings laws.

Knowledge is power. When information is freely available to the public, people can seek it out and make better decisions. The press provides these checks and balances as a key part of its role.

It’s your right to know how public money is spent and what public officials are doing on your behalf. Public information helps hold the government and all its departments accountable to the people.

Wyoming’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is overseeing a statewide project examining how well public agencies in towns across the Cowboy State respond to basic public records requests. Read the results in the March 18 edition of the News&Guide.

Just as important as public records are open meetings. The Wyoming Press Association has been monitoring about a dozen transparency bills affecting public access to meetings and documents. Three draft bills aimed to reduce the amount of public notice given in local newspapers, from bids for school construction to the state hiring professional services to finishing capital construction projects.

Another bill sought to exempt the State Land and Investment Board from the Wyoming Open Meetings Act when “meeting solely for the purpose of receiving education or training ...”

As it stands, however, if the board were to consider confidential financial information it can already do so in executive session “to consider or receive any information classified as confidential by law.”

Write or call your state lawmakers to let them know you value transparency. Tell them to vote “no” on attempts to create vague exemptions to open meetings law — especially when the topic at hand is deciding how to manage public assets.

Take a stand for the public’s right to know, your right to know.

This editorial represents the opinion of the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

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