Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Our Opinion: Internet is bane and benefit of informed public

Arizonans who want to check up on their government usually find it easiest to turn to the Internet.

But dependence on the Internet can be a frustrating experience. If information is available online and easy to find, great. But some topics are either exceptionally difficult to search for online or not there at all. And that usually means a trip to a government office and tedious hunts through reams of documents.

The bane and the benefit of public documents on the Internet were examined by The Associated Press and its member newspapers as part of Sunshine Week, the annual effort to see how well government is making public information available to the public.

There are anomalies in information available in Arizona. For example, it is easy to go online and find out if your doctor or attorney has been cited by the state. But data on teacher certifications or school safety are not online.

Compared with other states, Arizona actually is doing a good job. Arizona provides better online access to records than 35 other states. Fourteen of 20 types of records surveyed were available online in Arizona.

But although many records are available, there is a daily battle to ensure the public knows what is going on in state government. A working example of that emerged just within the past few days.

In her efforts to find ways of cutting the state budget to deal with a looming deficit, Gov. Jan Brewer asked agencies to detail how they would reduce services to deal with funding cuts between 5 percent and 20 percent.

When reporters asked to see those details, the Governor’s Office refused. A spokesman for the governor said a decision on releasing the information would be made after the Governor’s Office saw what was in the material. Until then, the information was “simply an information collection tool,” the spokesman said.

That clearly was not in keeping with Arizona’s public records law, which requires that public officials and agencies – state and local – promptly release public records upon request.

Fortunately, the Governor’s Office had a change of heart and said the data from agencies would be released. That’s as it should be. Releasing the information only after the fact would prevent citizens from knowing what budget-cutting options were available and would make it difficult for the people to participate in their government.

The media often are the ones seen as pushing for access to public records. But this is an issue for everyone who is concerned about knowing how their government works and how decisions are made.

The bottom line is simple: The public must have access to public information and to the public business.

That’s what Sunshine Week is all about.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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