April 13, 2009

When public records aren't

An interesting counterpoint to Thomas Mitchell's experience of getting a look at public records.

Journalist and resident of Ruston, WA Ian Demsky sought to take a look at the Town Council agendas for March as well as a copy of the 2009 town budget.

He was told it wouldn't be a problem for the former, and he would need to fill out a public records request for the latter. He agreed and said he would be down shortly.

When he arrived he was then asked to fill out a public records request for the March agenda. Upon completion, a clerk said that he would be notified when the records were ready.

As it turns out, the office legally had five days to respond to his request. But, as Demsky notes, never before in his capacity as a journalist had he encountered such a delay for a basic request.

It struck me that to ask residents to automatically wait five days to even look at the previous month’s agendas from council meetings – documents that the woman who was initially helping me seemed to be printing out and holding in her hand while I was at the counter – was unnecessary.

A sad example of bureaucratic inflexibility.