Accessing Open Records is Sometimes Difficult
Under the guise of “legal review,” some local government entities are charging exorbitant fees for multiple rounds of legal review, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of dollars per hour of review.
In order for government to be accountable to the people it serves, transparency is imperative. Taxpayers deserve to know exactly how elected officials and their employees are using tax dollars and their power in their public service. The potential for public scrutiny helps encourage public officials and employees to make decisions in the best interests of the public. Further, while most government officials are good actors and well-intentioned, mistakes can and do happen, and those mistakes must come to light so they may be rectified. Regrettably, there are also bad actors who do not have the best interests of the public in mind, and it is imperative that they too are held accountable. Whether decisions made behind the scenes are legal but potentially unpopular, ethically questionable, or even blatantly illegal, it is important for citizens to have access to open records so that they may hold their government and the people who work within the government framework accountable.
Legislators need to:
- Ensure open records are truly open
- Prevent local government entities from tacking on excessive fees
Unfortunately, accessing open records has become difficult in some situations. Under the guise of “legal review,” some local government entities are charging exorbitant fees for multiple rounds of legal review, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of dollars per hour of review. While charging to cover the cost of an open records request is reasonable so as not to shoulder the taxpayer with the cost burden, multiple anecdotes have surfaced, particularly in cases where the information contained within the open records may have proven politically damaging, where local government entities seem to have used inflated legal review fees to block access to public records. The Legislature should consider taking action to prevent local government entities from tacking on excessive fees to ensure that open records truly are open.