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SVM EDITORIAL: Hamilton has had his due; time to tip hats to Madison

We honor Founding Father James Madison during Sunshine Week, a time for everyone to turn their attention to the fight for transparent, honest government and open public records.

Published: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 10:46 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 10:48 p.m. CDT
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James Madison

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton has gotten a lot of attention as a character in the smash Broadway hit “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards last year.

Good for him. Hamilton played a key role as the U.S. got its start in the 18th century.

But this time of year, supporters of transparent, honest government and open public records focus their attention on a different Founding Father.

His name is James Madison, and his role in the nation’s history was exemplary.

Let us cite three examples:

• As a member of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Madison helped to draft the U.S. Constitution.

• As one of three writers (Hamilton and John Jay were the others) who wrote The Federalist Papers, Madison helped to win support for ratification of the Constitution.

• As a leader in the early U.S. House of Representatives, Madison helped to draft the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, and pushed for their successful ratification.

Known as a father of both the Constitution and Bill of Rights (and our fourth president, by the way), Madison is revered by journalists and others who support strong public oversight of government through access to public records and open meetings.

The American Society of News Editors, partnering with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, sponsors the 13th annual Sunshine Week this week.

Why this week?

Because Madison’s birthday falls this week – today, in fact.

He would have turned 266 years old.

By now, one would think our governments – national, state and local – would finally have gotten it right regarding honesty, openness and transparency.

Not so.

Governmental secrecy continues to rear its ugly head.

Statistics from the Illinois Public Access Counselor’s office back that up.

New requests for help regarding records requests and open meetings from the Public Access Counselor in 2016 totaled 4,720, according to Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That’s a 7.8 percent increase versus 4,381 in 2015.

Freedom of Information Act requests, 4,354 in all, comprised 3,640 requests from members of the public, 681 from media outlets or other organizations, and 33 from public bodies.

Of 366 requests for review regarding Open Meetings Act violations, 297 came from members of the public, 66 from media outlets or other organizations, and three from public bodies.

Clearly, some public officials still don’t want the people to know what their government is doing.

Accordingly, efforts still need to be made to let the sun shine in on public records and government meetings so that an informed public can hold elected officials accountable and make wise decisions come election time.

Hamilton’s reputation may have gotten a big boost from the lights of Broadway.

But Madison remains a shining beacon for the vital cause of open and honest government.

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