There is a constant, permanent tension between the demand that public business be public and the impulse of organizations, even public ones, to limit access to information.
That's why we have sunshine laws: to assure that citizens can find out how their tax dollars are spent and what their government is doing.
Often news organizations initiate open records requests but anyone can. It was a persistent neighborhood group that pried open the inner workings of the Bluegrass Area Development District, for example.
Here are a few other things we've learned recently about government in Kentucky, thanks to laws mandating open records and transparency in government actions:
■ A state penitentiary inmate starved himself to death after banging his head on his cell door and telling prison staff he felt anxious and paranoid. Medical personnel didn't give him anti-anxiety medication or check on him. By the time of his death the 6-foot man weighed 138 pounds.
■ State police investigating document shredding by former Legislative Research Commission Director Bobby Sherman seized his computer but didn't look at files on it before saying the case was closed and they'd found no evidence of wrongdoing,
■ The environmental cabinet indicated state enforcers knew that Frasure Creek Mining was falsifying water monitoring reports and were taking action, but when a citizen group asked to see the enforcement files no records were found.
■ The Tourism Development Finance Authority told Ark Encounter it would lose $18 million in tax incentives unless it provided "express written assurance ... that it will not discriminate ... on the basis of religion in hiring for the project."
■ Even after the renovation of Rupp Arena was suspended, the project manager continued at a salary of $200,000 a year.
But there are huge parts of of public life not covered by sunshine laws. Consider:
■ In 2003, legislators decided that, although the attorney general has authority to rule on open records requests directed at the rest of government, the General Assembly would leave that job up to its own leaders.
■ The court system has also exempted itself. For example, an investigation into "inappropriate workplace activities" of a former manager was closed. Disciplinary actions involving judges themselves are sealed, as are disciplinary actions, short of disbarment, for attorneys.
■ State retirement benefits are closed, so it's impossible to know how many former legislators have hefty pensions thanks to laws they enacted.
There's also a lot of gamesmanship to avoid obeying the laws. Preliminary reports are exempt but some reports, like the audit of the Legislative Research Commission, stay that way for months or years.
The neighbors pursuing the Bluegrass ADD had to appeal to the attorney general before they got any answers.
The University of Kentucky stonewalled requests for information about the death rates on pediatric heart surgeries, appealing an attorney general's order to circuit court, only releasing the information when national media raised questions.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services was slapped with a $756,000 fine for withholding public records about about children killed or badly hurt from child abuse.
Don't take sunshine for granted.