Tag Archives: National Freedom of Information Coalition

John R. Finnegan – Visionary, Leader, Indomitable Advocate for the Right to Know

Nearly 25 years ago the fledgling Minnesota Coalition on Government Information adopted the mission to advocate for systemic change in policies and practices that support open government at the state and local levels.  The first action of the Coalition was to sponsor an annual event and award to promote awareness of the public’s right to know information by and about their government.


Echoing initiatives at the federal level the Minnesota Coalition members decided to celebrate Freedom of Information Day on March 16, a date chosen to honor the  life and work of James Madison, key framer of the Constitution and the First Amendment.


A corollary decision by the Coalition was to annually honor a Minnesota individual or organization that had taken a lead in support of open government.  When the question came to naming the state’s Freedom of Information Award the decision was both unanimous and from the heart.


John R. Finnegan, crusader for open government, was our hero – more than a symbol, intrepid toiler in the thorny bramble of bureaucratic and legislative resistance.  It was John who stood out to Coalition members who recognized John’s vision, leadership and unstinting efforts to tackle the devil in the details of crafting – and adopting — laws and policies ensure the public right to information by and about their government.


John’s proactive defense of open government flowed from his experience as a leader in journalism at the local and national levels where he stood, alone at times, as a defender of the First Amendment and the right to know.  His gaze never wavered from the legislative and bureaucratic predilection to ignore or evade the Minnesota’s laws and policies relating to open meeting, data practices and the need for constant oversight.


At the national level, John’s voice rose about the din.  In 2011 when he was inducted into the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame John delivered a brilliant defense of freedom of information that moved an audience to their feet.  His words delivered on that day will be remembered.


Though it is acknowledged that John had a “trunkful of awards,” the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award is unique.  This award is not for but about its namesake.  Each year on Freedom of Information Day the award will honor the life and inestimable contributions of John R. Finnegan, a man I have long described as Minnesota’s Patron Saint of open government.  John’s was a good life well lived defending the rights of the governed in an informed democracy.

Sunshine Week 2011 Set for March 13-19


Sunshine deprived as we have been these past months, it’s good to know that Sunshine Week is finally here!  Though the snow may keep coming, the important thing about this Sunshine Week is to assure that the information does, too.  Sunshine Week 2011 is March 13-19.

Perhaps there is no time in history that open government has been both possible and threatened – in many way by the same forces.  Money, politics, and now the overwhelming and unpredictable omnipresence of telecommunications and information technology.  And, to some extent, our own inexperience dealing with the implications, particularly of the technology.

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.  Prime mover behind the Sunshine Week initiative is the American Society of News Editors in collaboration with the National Coalition on Government Information. Supporters include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others committed to the public’s right to know at the national, state and local levels.

Unlike many such campaigns Sunshine Week enjoys a bit of national support, primarily from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the ASNE Foundation and the Gridiron Club and Foundation.  As a result, there actually is a national staff that produces and makes readily available a wide range of promotional materials.  There is, for example, a Sunshine Week Open Government Proclamation that can be adapted for local use, press releases, and a full toolkit of other promotional resources.

This year they have added the Ray of Sunshine Game which is worth a click.  The game offers a dozen thought-provoking questions and a few minutes of self-revelatory fun for open government promoters.

Freedom of Information Day, one aspect of Sunshine Week, is held each year on March 16, the birthday of James Madison.  In Minnesota there will be a noontime Freedom of Information Day event at the Minneapolis Central Library.  At that event retired television anchor Don Shelby and former State Senator Don Betzold will receive the annual John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.  That event is sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.

A number of national events are also in the works.  There is an FOI Day event in Washington, DC and a national webcast emanating from Washington will amplify the message of open government and the rights of the people to access.

Note: If you’re reading this on the blog, you fine the Sunshine Week website at http://www.sunshineweek.org.  To my great concern I’ve learned recently that links on the blog post don’t work anymore, though they once did.  Unfortunately I haven’t figured out the problem of the Lost Links, but I will not give up until I do….