A step in the right direction

Friday, October 21, 2011

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad unveiled a new web page, https://governor.iowa.gov/news/open_records/, where citizens may view requests made to the governor's office by the public for public records.

The monthly reports include the day the requests were made, how the office ultimately resolved them and what the public was charged to obtain the requested records.

There has been criticism of the way the governor's office has handled requests, including charging for the records. Branstad made transparency in government a campaign issue, and continues to support an enforcement agency where citizens may bring their concerns about access to public records.

Transparency in government is a good thing. Iowa law currently gives general guidelines to help elected officials accommodate requests for public records. Reasonable delays to determine whether or not a record is confidential should not exceed 20 days and ordinarily should not exceed 10 days, the law says.

At the press conference, the governor's office reported that 90 percent of requests were completed without charges for staff review time and the average time for completion was 17 days.

Having a centralized public location where citizens can access this information will help to keep the governor's office accountable. It is a good first step to increasing access to public records.

We are pleased that Gov. Branstad chose to lead by example, effectively silencing criticism of his office and indicating that transparency and accountability are priorities.

Iowa's laws on open meetings and open records are straight forward and fair. It is a basic precept in a democracy that the actions of elected officials are to be made in plain sight. The documents that are used to make these decisions are also to be readily accessible.

The law is sound, it is unfortunate that an enforcement agency is required to ensure that it is followed. But that is where we are today. When citizens are forced to hire attorneys to gain access to public records, clearly something needs to be done.

This action by the governor's office has effectively set the bar higher for being accountable and responsive to the public.

It's a good first step.