By Steve Beatty, The Lens staff writer |

Happy Sunshine Week. Unlike other recent “weeks” and “days” invented by the greeting-card industry, this particular week is meant to help the general public, not honor a specific group.

We’re here to remind people of their rights to observe and participate in government. The collection of laws that guarantee these rights are generically called “sunshine laws,” with the assumption that government should be open enough that the sun shines on all its activities.

And one important governmental activity – required by the United States Constitution – is the redrawing of political boundaries after each decennial census. Louisiana will be one of the first states to tackle this issue because it has among the first Congressional elections scheduled this year.

The state Legislature will convene on March 20 to draw the districts not just for U.S. Congress, but for a host of state offices as well.

The Lens is a member of an effort called the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance, which has a year-round mission of encouraging transparency. The coalition — under the direction of a member organization,  Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana — has produced short fact sheets that are intended to provide guidance and confidence to citizens looking for information:

We encourage you to download and read these and get involved. It’s your government, and the politicians work for you. This is a good week to remind them of that.

Interested in the city-led Hurricane Katrina recovery project down the street from you? Ask city officials for all the records regarding that project, including who bid on it and how much it costs. Want to know who contributed to your elected officials? Look it up at the state ethics board’s website.

The city’s website contains a wealth of information, too, once you get past all the pictures of Mayor Mitch Landrieu. For instance, you can see what kinds of things the city is bidding on, and read the details of the contracts the city has signed in one handy place.

And the city assessor’s website lets you see your neighbor’s taxable property value, helping you determine whether you’re getting a fair shake.

Go out and help spread the sunshine this week – and all year long.

Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...