Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter is trying to make Idaho more transparent. On Thursday, the Governor signed an executive order that will establish an ombudsman position to review and craft a response plan around how the state government responds to public records requests as well as requests from the media.
Members of the Newspaper Association of Idaho worked with the governor on the order after they said that public records requests had been denied in the past, making local government opaque.
Cally Younger, an attorney in the Office of the Governor will act as the public records ombudsman. She will be responsible for setting the policies and practices of all executive branch agencies. She will also collect information about the number of denials of public records requests issued by state agencies as well as the reasons for denials, costs associated with the requests and total cost of compliance with the Idaho Public Records Act.
In addition, the ombudsman will compile and maintain a list of concerns and complaints from individuals about agency policies, processes and decisions denying access to public records and report that information to the Governor every year by December 30. Younger also will work with agencies, stakeholders and the public to provide recommendations to the Governor for improving public record disclosure policies and laws, including possible legislation to establish a review process at the state and local level before or in lieu of litigation.
As it now stands in Idaho law, the “sole remedy” for denials of public records requests is a lawsuit in state court. Governor Otter said there should be a quicker, easier and less expensive alternative both for the government entities involved and the public.
The Office of the Attorney General has deputies attorney general assigned to each executive branch agency whose jobs include advising directors and administrators how most appropriately to respond to public records requests. Having an ombudsman in the Office of the Governor to review those denials eliminates potential conflicts of interest, the governor said in a statement..
“This begins a process that I hope will prompt discussions at every level of government about our responsibilities and the importance of transparency to building public confidence in its institutions,” Governor Otter said.