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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Ind. Gov't - Indy Star asks Holcomb for Pence records; PAC says give them some time

An interesting Public Access Counselor response was issued February 1 to the Indianapolis Star. Some quotes:

Your complaint dated December 22, 2016, alleges the Office of the Governor has violated the APRA by not providing your requested documents in a reasonable time.

On or about September 16, 2016, you submitted a records request to the Office of the Governor for several sets of email correspondence between Governor Mike Pence from his private email account. A request was made by the Governor’s Office to narrow down your request to meets its standards of reasonable particularity. After doing so on October 20, 2016, the Governor’s Office indicated it would initiate the search. After a significant amount of time passed, several status update requests were unsuccessful; therefore, a formal complaint was filed with this office.

Due to the timing of the election season, the Holcomb administration responded on behalf of Former Governor Pence’s office. According to Mr. Heerens, the Former Governor passed along his office’s files and public records to the incoming administration. This includes the records responsive to your request. The new administration has taken on the task to curate the Former Governor’s records for potential production. Governor Holcomb’s legal team is reviewing those files for release and assures any records appropriate for distribution will be produced in the near future. * * *

[T]he past several months have been historically unprecedented in state government. The usual course of business has been anything but usual. If any circumstances were to ever qualify as extenuating, the past few months would certainly be so. The challenges faced by administration transitions (including staff turnover), elections and even the holiday season are all valid justifications for delay in responding to a public records request. This was no doubt exacerbated by the influx of public record requests submitted to the Pence administration after he accepted the candidacy for Vice President.

A nine-week delay with no status updates and no piecemeal production of documents would normally run contrary to any reasonable interpretation of timeliness. While the release of requested public records should always be a priority, there were undoubtedly competing priorities in the last weeks of the Pence administration. By the same token, in its first few weeks, the Holcomb administration has been concerned with the business of establishing itself as head of the executive branch while also preparing for the 2017 legislative session. Given those responsibilities coupled with the task of being the custodian of a prior administration’s public records, a subsequent delay in the production was inevitable. Yours is unlikely to be the final request for the records of Vice President Pence’s gubernatorial records. Whether those records are retained by the administration or transferred to the state archives with past administrations’ files, it is my sincere hope the future accessibility of these records is swift and easy.

By no means am I minimizing the importance of yours or any other public records request. But given the unique nature of recent events, I am inclined to defer to the Former Governor’s office on the issue of timeliness. My advice to both parties is to consider this Opinion an outlier. Based on my brief conversations with the Holcomb administration staff, I am confident they are committed to best practice and good governance as it relates to transparency, including matters of timeliness.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 8, 2017 11:36 AM
Posted to Indiana Government