of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham
P. O. Box 530522
Birmingham, AL 35253
Greater Birmingham League of Women Voters
Shines Light on Government
Birmingham, AL – March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, a week dedicated to the importance of transparency and openness in government. With the launch of a strengthened and expanded observation program, the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham is opening the window wide to let that light fully shine on local government. Through its new Greater Birmingham Observer Corps, the League is training both members and citizens outside of the organization to accurately and objectively report their observations of government meetings. There are dozens of commissions, councils, boards, authorities, and committees in the Greater Birmingham area that receive and expend tax money and that might be observed. So that the public, the media, and the observed bodies have easy access to the information, the reports will be posted online at: http://observercorps.lwvgb.org.
Sunshine Week is held every March as part of a national initiative that brings together print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.
Congress codified the right to know with passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. It was further strengthened with passage of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1976 and the Sunshine Act of 1976 to allow and protect citizens' access to information. Financial disclosure laws that inform citizens of financial influence on governmental employees and elected officials have also been enacted.
In Alabama, the legislature passed the Open Meetings Act in 2005 that replaced and strengthened the Alabama Sunshine Law. The Open Meetings Act was further enhanced in 2015. Together, these laws recognize the fact that citizens have the right to attend meetings, obtain copies of minutes and seek information related to matters managed by governmental entities.
“It is important that citizens understand what is happening in local government meetings and that public officials know that we are paying attention. Public officials are constantly making fiduciary and public policy decisions. Citizens have a right to know how their taxpayer dollars are spent and what actions are taken on their behalf,” said League president Jean W. Johnson. She continued, “But it’s not easy for the average citizen to get this information. Although any citizen has the right to observe almost all government meetings, it is not practical. The free press and broadcast media keep us well informed about many public matters. They act as our window on the transactions of the peoples business. However, it is not possible for reporters to cover all the entities that should be covered.” Johnson explained that that is why the League of Women Voters is opening up its long-standing observer program to train more citizens to objectively observe and report. She said that the program requires adherence to a code of conduct that prohibits observers from advocating for or opposing actions of the observed government entity. Johnson also said that the League of Women Voters has no political objective in this work, pointing out that it never supports or opposes any candidate or political party.
“It’s incredibly important for citizens to know more about their government,” said Ann Smith, LWVGB Director of Observer Corps Training. She continued, “Informed and engaged citizens make better decisions at the polls. And as members of the League of Women Voters, we are always working to keep our democracy strong and healthy. That all starts with having an open government.”
Volunteers in the Greater Birmingham Observer Corps are engaged citizens doing hands-on work to protect democracy. For more information about the Greater Birmingham Observer Corps program and Sunshine Week, contact the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham at 205 583-5000 or visit http://www.lwvgb.org.
About League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham
The League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
If you do not wish to receive LWVGB media releases or advisories, please notify Jean Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the League at 205 583-5000.