Sunshine Week: Shining Light Onto Public Governance
In observance of Sunshine Week, Patch is providing some information on your rights to observe your government in action, and some resources for you to explore open records yourself.
Want to know how much the superintendent makes? That's an open record.
Want to watch Oak Creek officials deliberate and decide what to do about a proposed development? That's an open meeting.
Wisconsin has a long history of open government, and strong laws that support it. Oak Creek Patch is observing Sunshine Week 2012, which begins today. As part of that observation, we want to share with you some of the open government resources available to anyone.
You have the right to see the records the government keeps — from health inspection reports to employee salaries to the entire municipal or school district budget — and to be present at the meetings where governmental business gets done. The expectation is that government is open — if they want to close the meeting or keep a document confidential, they need to say why. And in most cases, they aren't allowed to ask who you are or why you want to see the record you're requesting.
If you know of an open government issue you'd like Oak Creek Patch to look into, email Local Editor Mark Schaaf.
See for yourself
The Internet has made it easier to access a lot of public information. As governments go digital, the amount of information available online has grown. Here are links to some online databases you can search.
- Who's not paying their taxes? Search by name or city
- How much to Wisconsin public school employees earn? by the Appleton Post Crescent
- Look up license and credential information for doctors, nurses, hairstylists and more from the Department of Safety and Professional Services
- Has your child's day care had any violations? Look in the Youngstar database
- See how students in your school district perform From the State Department of Public Instruction
- Search court records
- Find out if someone is in prison
- See which sex offenders live in your area
Locally, some records are available online, such as land records through the city assessor's office.
If you want to dig into the legal aspects of it, here are links to the statutes and guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.