Good government starts with informed citizens
When Bob Schieffer -- longtime chief Washington correspondent for CBS News -- gives a shout-out to the Mitchell Daily Republic for its investigative reporting, it doesn't get much better.
That is exactly what happened one evening last week in the nation's capital. Daily Republic Editor Seth Tupper was at the National Press Club to accept an award from the national Public Notices Resource Center for the Daily Republic's reporting about a secret $175,000 severance package between the Huron school and a former superintendent.
The newspaper's reporting all started with a citizen reading the Huron school board minutes in the local newspaper. More specifically, reading the list of bills to be paid by the school. (State law requires that the minutes of school board meetings include a detailed listing of any claims approved by the board for payment.) The Huron bills included a payment of $10,900 to the former school superintendent. The payment was made over a period of months and was included in the publication of board minutes each month.
The citizen reading the Huron school board minutes in the newspaper called The Daily Republic and conveyed suspicion to Tupper's newsroom.
The Huron school board resisted releasing details of the secret severance package and The Daily Republic ultimately had to go to court to get the information released. The Daily Republic and South Dakota Newspaper Association pursued the matter and ultimately won. But not before several months had passed and several thousand dollars in legal fees were incurred.
Back to Bob Schieffer.
Schieffer was the keynote speaker at the dinner event when The Daily Republic received its award. He acknowledged the newspaper in his opening remarks and congratulated Tupper for The Daily Republic's investigative work. "This is what journalism is all about," Schieffer said.
High praise indeed from a veteran journalist who has covered major stories going back to the assassination of President John Kennedy and has hosted the "Face the Nation" Sunday news show since 1991. If anyone knows what good journalism is about, it's Bob Schieffer.
All of which brings us to this week -- Sunshine Week.
Sunshine Week is an annual nationwide observance to bring attention to the importance of public access to government information and government meetings. Important especially in a democracy. If a government of the people, by the people and for the people is going to work, then those people must be informed.
Public access to government records and government meetings is fundamental to good government. Openness and transparency in government tamps out suspicions, rumor mongering and innuendos. Sunshine is a good thing.
Sunshine proved to be a good thing when Bob Schieffer and his colleagues were reporting on Watergate in the early 1970s. And sunshine was a good thing when Seth Tupper and his team were pursuing the details of a secret severance package in Huron last year.
Don't take my word for it. Take Bob Schieffer's.