January 8, 2013
Use caution in seeking open records changes
Reporters can be pesky — annoying even, particularly when trying to get information out of government entities.
Reporters file requests for information under the state’s open records law more often than Joe Citizen, as they do their job on your behalf. Forgive us if reporters tend to be more sensitive to possible changes to those laws, particularly changes that might dam up the river of information.
Cities across the state are lobbying the Legislature to make changes to open records laws that could make public records — your records — harder to get.
The cause for this latest discussion stems from the city of Gold Bar, a small city facing tremendous fiscal problems. Many put the blame on a few citizens there for filing too many records requests. They say the cost of those requests is bringing down the city.
It is simplistic to say that answering records requests is what did in Gold Bar. While the requests do seem to have a role, other forces were at play.
But now, with the specter of Gold Bar lurking behind lobbying effort, government agencies say that responding to harassing requests creates a large burden on taxpayers and want a way to deny or slow down responses to requests.
It’s the idea of bullying that is the problem. There can be a fine line between a bully on an information treasure hunt or a well-meaning citizen or reporter.
State lawmakers should work with open government advocates when considering changes to be sure they understand the perspective of those who seek information regularly. Maintaining open channels for public information is critical to the functioning of a democractic society.
Legislators should always err of the side of keeping records open and easily accessible. The cost of closing access goes well beyond dollars and cents.