Apr 24 2014

Opening up

Published by at 7:05 am under Idaho,Stapilus

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

It’s just one small step, and the putting into practice will be the real test. But this move by Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to appoint a public records ombudsman for the state is a good idea, and one his counterparts in Washington and Oregon should consider.

Idaho recently wound up, with a small group of other states, at the bottom of a survey of openness in state governments. That may or may not have been a prompt for Otter’s decision, but it underscored the need.

The problem, often enough, isn’t always Idaho’s law on public records (like many other states good in presumption but also larded with exemptions to sunshine) but in the follow-through: Agencies (certainly not all, but some) where the ingrained attitude is that the records are theirs, not the public’s. Pulling those records may be doable, but costly; if you have to go to court, the effort may not come cheap. Larger news organizations historically have been willing to do that anyway, but the public records law is not supposed to be a news media-only proposition. It is supposed to allow any member of the public to examine public records.

The new ombudsman position, filled now by attorney Callie Younger, could turn out to be a fig leaf, offering little practical help. We’ll see how it works in practice and assess accordingly. But for the moment, this looks like a show of good faith from Idaho’s governor.

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