Our Views: Public records are the public’s business – keep them open and accessible

July 14, 2018

There’s power in public records. They keep government accountable and politicians honest.

We’re glad to see Mohave County, at Supervisor Buster Johnson’s request, plans to review its public records policies during next week’s board meeting.

Johnson openly wonders if the public has as much access as public officials after hearing recent complaints that private citizens aren’t getting timely responses when they request documents from the county. “I expect the public to receive documents just as quick as the supervisors get it,” Johnson told a News-Herald reporter.

Good for him. We hope that means supervisors reaffirm the county’s commitment to keeping public records as accessible as possible and double-down on ensuring requests for information are answered on a timely basis.

This is a conversation that all of our public agencies need to have. Transparency should be a priority at all levels of government, from Lake Havasu City (and the quasi-public agencies it contracts), state agencies like the Department of Public Safety, and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management.

There’s a tendency for some agencies to put up walls when it comes to public records requests. For instance, repeated requests from the News-Herald to DPS for information about last week’s tragic fatal car accident on State Route 95 still have not been adequately answered. DPS public information officers won’t even provide basic information such as the identities of the other people involved in the crash, instead referring reporters to filing a public records request, a process that takes far too long. The request about the July 4 accident still hadn’t been fulfilled as of 9 p.m. Friday night.

All government agencies should occasionally review their public records policies and revise them to ensure the public can be as informed as possible about important issues. If there’s a question about whether information should be revealed, we heartily recommend erring on the side of divulging too much instead of keeping information under wraps. Secrecy only causes problems.

It’s government by the people, after all.

Yes, there are abusers who request many documents and waste staff time obtaining them. It can be expensive. Fortunately, there are ways to recoup some of those costs, such as small fees charged for copies. Otherwise, it’s a relatively small price to pay for good governance.

— Today’s News-Herald

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