Others’ opinion: Government lawsuits over public record requests are outrageous

Published 11:50 am Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Dallas Morning News

Here’s an alarming new threat to the public’s right to know: More and more government agencies around the country are suing private citizens who request access to public information, in order to keep them from seeing the records.


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There’s no better protection to our democracy than our ability to hold the people we elect to public office accountable for how they’re spending our tax dollars and conducting our business. These are our records, after all, and these agencies are stomping on citizens’ right to keep track of what government is doing.

Most state open records laws allow requesters to sue agencies if they’re denied records, in order to force the information’s release. The Associated Press reports that a growing number of school districts, municipalities and agencies are turning the tables, suing requesters and asking judges to rule that the information doesn’t need to be turned over, citing privacy or sensitivity concerns. What’s more, even if the agencies are ultimately ordered to turn over the records, they typically will not have to pay the other side’s legal bills.

Freedom-of-information advocates see it for exactly what it is: a new way for governments to hide records, delay disclosure and intimidate critics.

What are these agencies trying to hide? Plenty, it turns out. Examples include data on student performance in Oregon, records on employees accused of sexual assault on a college campus in Kentucky, and information on how many school employees are being paid to stay home in Louisiana.

We urge our leaders throughout the country to remember that open government is the linchpin to assuring trust, that officials are representing our best interests. Transparency matters. The taxpayers
who elect these officials deserve not to be kept in the dark.