March 17, 2017
Dear Fellow Montanans:
March 18 will mark the end of Sunshine Week in Montana and throughout the United States. It is an annual effort, led by the American Society of News Editors, to recognize the need for open government and access to information held by government.
The government information (campaign finance, lobbying and ethics) held by this office needs to be accessible and transparent. We understand that. The green horizontal menu bar above this letter, along with the "featured online services" to the left, are designed to provide immediate access or transparency to statements, reports, decisions, settlements, and procedures of the agency. While experience is important in use of the system (please call any of our staff if you have questions), the government information that most people want is right there, immediately accessible, a blessing from this age of electronic access.
There is, however, more esoteric government information that is not immediately transparent. Those decisions with investigation files, for example, have documents gained during investigation that are not immediately transparent. In 2016 there were 56 requests for public records filed with this agency for documents. The Montana press corps was the largest source of public records requests, with Montana reporters Carter, DeHaven, Adams, Calvan, Volz and Dennison all filing public records requests. Troy Carter of the Bozeman Chronicle, alone, filed 13 public records requests.
We understand that the public, particularly the press, needs timely access to agency documents. We completely responded (generally within a day or days) to 55 of the 56 public records requests. We made those responses without charge to the party requesting the information. I believe that the American Society of News Editors would put a stamp of approval on those responses.
There is, however, one 2016 request for public records that has only been partially answered to date. That request came from a Washington DC group and set out multiple demands for document assembly from multiple document sources, as opposed to the targeted demand for document production that is commonly made by Montanans. We have attached a copy of the public records request letter, below. As of this date we have provided 5 responses, each response providing some of the requested information. We have not yet responded to the entire public records request as we have not been able to divert sufficient staff time (including mine) from other duties.
We may be at the point where this Office finds it necessary to impose fees for a significant use of staff time in responding to public records requests like those in the attached letter. It is unfortunate but necessary in order to keep the limited public resources of this agency from being significantly redirected and used by a private entity.