Use caution in open records changes
January 9, 2013
Reporters can be pesky. Annoying even, particularly when they are trying to get information out of government entities.
Reporters file requests for information under the state’s open records law more often than Joe Citizen, as they do their job on your behalf. Forgive us if reporters tend to be more sensitive to possible changes to those laws, particularly changes that might dam up the river of information.
Cities across the state, including Sammamish, are lobbying the Legislature to make changes to open records laws that could make public records — your records — harder to get.
The cause for this latest discussion stems from the city of Gold Bar, a small city facing tremendous fiscal problems. Many put the blame on a few citizens there for filing too many records requests. They say the cost of those requests is bringing down the city.
It is simplistic to say that answering records requests is what did in Gold Bar. While the requests do seem to have a role, other forces were at play.
But now, with the specter of Gold Bar lurking behind their lobbying effort, cities say that responding to harassing and bullying requests creates a large burden on taxpayers, so government agencies should have a way to deny or slow responses to them.
It’s the idea of “bullying and harassing” that is the problem.
There can be a fine line between a bully and a citizen who is on an information treasure hunt or even, well, an annoying reporter.
There may, indeed, be a way to reduce the burden of so-called harassing requests without clamping down on the legitimate flow of information. State lawmakers should work with open government advocates when considering changes, to be sure they understand the perspective of those who seek information regularly.
Maintaining open channels for public information is critical to the functioning of a democractic society.
Legislators should always err of the side of keeping records open and easily accessible. The costs of closing access go well beyond dollars and cents.