Yes, public records requests can be a pain for public entities and their employees, but Weekly World Central isn't so sure a bill proposed by Republic Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista is such a good idea either. HB 2419 would allow places like the Tucson Police Department, the Pima County Sheriff's Department, different departments within City of Tucson and Pima County charge anyone who comes in with a public records request $20 an hour for the time it takes to retrieve the records for those requests that take more then 8 hours to fulfill.
What's ironic, troubling and any other way you want to cast this yet-another-flawed law is how Stevens is getting the word out about the bill. A media advisory went out yesterday—barely 24-hours notice—for a public records reimbursement stakeholder meeting. Now that's really helpful.
The meeting today is at 2 p.m. in the Majority Leader's conference room 205 at the House of Representatives, 1700 W. Washington St., in ... Phoenix.
Well, if you happen to be in Phoenix today or want to let Stevens and other lawmakers in on what really needs to happen with public records, here are a few things to remember (besides planning and sending out alerts on stakeholder meetings just a wee bit earlier, especially if you want to be perceived as being, you know, transparent):
Public records belong to the public. It's the responsibility of public offices to make sure records are easily and readily available. Stevens' bill makes it seem as if Joe Public and Joe Media make requests and public offices seamlessly make those requests happen under harsh and horrible conditions—those records must be kept in dusty dark basements where files are heaped, taking that public employee hours to find under harrowing circumstances.
Reality, many public offices drag requests out and sometimes they don't want to handover requests even when legally required to do so. If the media outlet or citizen has the funding a lawsuit is often the only way to get the public office to do what's right.
Another reality is that we live in an electronic age—some public offices charge unreasonable amounts already for copies of records. Getting some offices to consider putting information on a jump-drive or disk, or even email is like speaking a foreign language and in exchange there are a million excuses, which makes one believe that some of the offices must be in the dark age (despite all those computers that you see walking into every government office).
Stevens has it all wrong. If public records are what's important to him, then he needs to create a bill that helps courthouses statewide make all cases accessible online, and perhaps broaden the minds of officials who want to control what public information is actually public. Sunshine, transparency ... and embracing electron-age information sharing. Unless, of course, that's not what Stevens has in mind after all.