March 15-21 is Sunshine Week, a national initiative about the importance of open government and freedom of information. It provides a great opportunity for those of us who work for citizens to ensure everyone knows how strongly committed we are to maintaining a culture of openness and transparency. In Cary, we pride ourselves on transparency; it’s highlighted twice in our Statement of Values and practiced every day.
Some of the steps Cary has taken to build and maintain an open government include for more than a decade putting Council meeting materials on the web so that everyone – Council, media, citizens – can access them at the same time; in fact, sharing information with everyone simultaneously is the primary reason we created our website in 1997. Today, nearly 30,000 files make up www.townofcary.org.
Another major step was taken on Feb. 8, 2007 when Cary became one of the first local governments in North Carolina to adopt a comprehensive public records policy, which articulates exactly how we support both the letter and the spirit of state “Sunshine” laws. Our trend in firsts continued in 2013 when Cary became the first municipality in North Carolina to offer a public archive for social media posts.
Internally, resources are dedicated annually to educate staff on how we can make the sun shine in Town Hall. In addition to suggested articles, we’ve engaged staff with unique games like Sunshine Jeopardy and Sunshine Week March Madness, as well as scheduled guest presentations by professors whose expertise is public record laws. We even did a screening of a self-produced short film, “Collateral Trust: Security of Sensitive Information”; it was so successful we went on to receive the N.C. State Treasurer’s Award for Excellence in Accounting and Financial Management and the Award of Distinction from the 2011 Videographer’s Awards, presented by Videographer Magazine and Production Hub.
Our efforts for transparency and openness don’t stop with citizens or staff; we continually strive for a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with the media. In addition to a robust Web section dedicated to meeting the needs of the media, we conduct media surveys to evaluate our efforts and use the feedback to keep our outreach current and effective. For staff new and seasoned, we host quarterly media training seminars; it’s a key aspect of our working well together in service to our community.
“Sunshine” is a work in progress. And although we work hard on transparency, we rely on citizens and the media to let us know about problems encountered with or ideas about accessibility since, despite our best efforts, we know there will be opportunities for us to improve.
We encourage everyone to help their governments focus on transparency by taking time to participate in Sunshine Week. You’ll find more about Cary’s commitment to a culture of openness by searching “Sunshine Week” at www.townofcary.org.
Here in Cary, we’ve marked Sunshine Week since 2008 and to this day, our goal isn’t for the sun to just shine during one week in March; we want it to shine every day as we focus on doing our best to serve our citizens.
Visit Cary’s Sunshine Week Web page to learn more.