By Jack Greiner, The Cincinnati Enquirer Jack Greiner is a lawyer with Graydon Head in Cincinnati and represents Enquirer Media in First Amendment and media issues.
My earliest memory of the month of March was one of disappointment. When I was about 5 or so, I remember my mom saying something about March "coming in like a lion." At that tender age, I was not intimately familiar with the concept of metaphors, so on March 1, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking out my window to see a lion wandering the streets of Cheviot. None appeared. That was no doubt a good thing, but to an abnormally impressionable kid like me, it was a letdown.
As I grew older March meant spring break. And while I didn't have the means to travel to Florida, it was still nice to get a break from my studies. Of course, as a sports fan, March has always meant the NCAA tournament and the imminent arrival of Opening Day. Doesn't get much better than that.
But more recently, I've come to see March as the arrival of Sunshine Week – the time when we consider the importance of open government. While it may not pack all the drama of March Madness, government transparency is worth a commemoration.
And while we tend to think of the concept of open government as an American value (and it is) the concept is a little older than that. Like by over 2000 years. Here's what the New Testament has to say about it: "For every one who practices evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his works be reproved. John 3:19-20."
That passage really gets to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? Bad things happen in private. Even in our current climate of oversharing on social media, have you ever seen a public official announce "I'm about to take a bribe. OMG"? Or how about a cop saying "I'm proud to say I've hassled black drivers whenever I pulled them over. LOL." I haven't either. Not everything that happens behind closed doors is bad, but bad things almost always happen behind closed doors.
For that reason, Ohio, like most states, has statutes that require public records be available for public inspection and public meetings be open to the public. And while the Apostle John didn't write the laws, his admonition lies at the heart of the laws. The public, frequently via the press has the right to observe what its elected and appointed officials are up to. This is so for at least two compelling reasons. First, access allows us to expose and punish wrong doing. The appalling findings by the Justice Department's investigation in Ferguson relied in large part on records. Access to that information ensures guilty parties are punished and abuses are corrected.
But perhaps just as important as the ability to use public records to look back is the power to prevent corruption in the first place. I had an economics professor at Miami University who said once: "Locks don't keep crooks out, they just keep honest people honest." Our Sunshine Acts act like that metaphorical lock. If our elected and appointed officials know their actions are subject to public view (including emails, Hillary) they are less likely to abuse their office. To use John's words, if public officials' works are subject to being "reproved" those officials are more likely to behave.
So let us use this March week to celebrate sunshine and resolve to keep those laws strong and vibrant. The Bible tells us so, after all.