Wick Communications

Unpublic records

In First Amendment on May 4, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Many thanks to Christianna Silva at the University of Arizona for this report on the state of public records in her state. Sadly, it won’t surprise anyone engaged in the daily struggle to pry public records from public agencies.

Here’s her lede:

PHOENIX – More than a month ago, 19 Arizona agencies were given simple public record requests seeking data on the numbers of those requests those agencies received in 2015 and 2016. Less than half responded.

Of the 19 agencies requested, nine responded, three on the same day it was sent.

Only one agency — Arizona Attorney General’s Office — provided everything requested. Officials there explained they did so because their response was required by law.

So to recap, only one of 19 public agencies in Arizona followed the law when given a very simple public records request. Most didn’t even acknowledge the request, even though it came from someone at the state’s flagship university and not some trouble-making news organization.

If ever there was cause for alarm in the populace, here it is. Again, from Christianna’s terrific piece. …

“Public records transcend policy,” Ryan Anderson, the director of communication at the AG’s office, said of the importance of responding to public records quickly and responsibly. “They transcend media. It’s important to have people involved in that process.”

It’s difficult to make folks who are uninvolved in their government understand just how crucial this is. But doing so is one of our highest priorities as journalists. If bureaucrats are allowed to ignore requests for information about how they spend millions and even billions in public funds, fraud and misuse are virtually guaranteed. If politicians can simply pretend they didn’t hear us asking whether they have a conflict, you can bet they will be conflicted. And if we the people don’t continually hold accountable our public servants, you can bet they will bow to private interest. Eventually, that disconnect leads to revolution. You could look it up.

Here’s what I suggest to my friends at our Arizona papers. Run Christianna’s story. (As I’m sure you all know, you are free to reprint everything in the Arizona Sonora News with proper byline and credit.) Then write an editorial about it. Call these agencies yourself. We should shame these public officials for not following the spirit or the letter of law that is among the most essential for our democracy.

Clay

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