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Friday, December 18, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "Making Government Transparency More Transparent "

Ted Newcombe, a Governing columnist, writes this week: "In their quest to make public records requests easier, faster and cheaper, some governments are publishing them online for anyone to see." He writes that many:

... state and local governments treat requests for public records as a burden and not as part of the job of government. But that’s slowly changing. Some governments are taking steps to make it easier, faster, and less costly to request and receive government information.

A small but growing number of cities and counties are going even further and starting to share the responses to requests for public records by posting them online. The first to do this was Montgomery County, Md., which passed legislation in 2012 mandating the publishing of public records requests. The county’s website lists the person or organization who made the request, the date of the request, a description of the document and a link to the information.

Hans Riemer, the county councilmember who wrote Montgomery’s 2012 law, says the requests have public value and should be shared publicly. “It takes the process away from insiders and makes it public,” he says.

Another benefit: It’s a way to lower costs by reducing the amount of staff time spent answering multiple requests for the same information. Riemer adds that public sharing could also dissuade people who make spurious requests, “because now the whole world knows what they are doing.”

Other cities that have portals for sharing public records include Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. There are also a number of single agency portals, such as the Illinois Board of Education and the Chicago Public Schools. But Montgomery County appears to be the only government entity that mandates request information be publicly posted.

If there’s any resistance to the policy of sharing requests and responses for public records, it comes from the media. Journalists are heavy users of public records and have expressed concerns that publication of their requests, along with the documents they have received from the request, could give competing news organizations advance notice of a developing story.

ILB: Re resistance from the media, see this May 23, 2010 ILB post headed "Daley to post all investigative reporter requests online." A quote from the Chicago Sun Times:
In the name of “transparency,” Mayor Daley on Thursday got some measure of revenge against the investigative reporters who’ve made his life miserable by digging up dirt on the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals.

He revamped the city’s new website to include a log of all Freedom of Information Act requests. The list includes the name and organization of each applicant, documents demanded and dates the information was requested and is due to be released.

A new state law merely requires city departments to maintain such a log — not to post it on the Internet to tip investigative reporters about the trail being followed by competitors.

But Daley gleefully declared that he was going “above and beyond what’s required” in the interest of “transparency, openness and the free-flow of information.”

“If you want transparency in government, you have to have this. I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with [getting even with] the Sun-Times, Tribune, media or anything. This is what you want,” Daley said.

Corporation Counsel Mara Georges noted that some investigative reporters try to keep tabs on competitors by “FOI-ing other peoples’ FOIs.”

By posting the log, she said, “We don’t have to be the arbiter of disputes…to decide who’s gonna get access to other peoples’ FOIs, who’s gonna get access to the information others are asking about.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 18, 2015 09:45 AM
Posted to Indiana Government