Public Records – Out in the Open?

In recent years, state governments across the country have been busy passing, implementing and monitoring compliance with new open public records laws. Lately, all eyes have been on Illinois and its Attorney General who created a Public Access Bureau, the first agency to illuminate for the public the decision-making processes of state and local governments. The Bureau also acts as a referee, helping citizens resolve disputes related to public records and penalizing government officials for noncompliance.

Given Illinois’ recent scandalous history involving two consecutive governors, the goal of this endeavor is to “end the culture of secrecy” and establish new clear-cut legislation that addresses open public records and prevents further corruption. Yet, these efforts to promote open government – as sincere as they are – were bound to meet with some obstacles.

For starters, just how much transparency is too much? This Attorney General believes public servants can’t function effectively if the public expects to be privy to every preliminary discussion and document version leading up to final decisions. She also doesn’t believe in opening government employees’ performance evaluations, arguing that supervisors are not going to be honest if they know the evaluations will be scrutinized.

However, several high-ranking officials from other states, where such public records have been open for years, strongly disagree. From experience, they know that people tend to work harder and be more honest when they know the records are going public. There is a reason these officials are called public employees: the public pays their salary and has the right to inspect their performance. Clearly, Illinois still has a long way to go before achieving complete transparency of public records. I should know – I lived there.

Reference: Intelius, Inc.

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