I have been recruited to participate in the Sunshine Blogger Project, an effort to gauge the compliance of the nations’ governors with open records laws as they exist in each state. I wrote about my experience with the office of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius in this article: Open Records in Kansas.
The letter I received from JaLynn Copp, the Assistant Chief Counsel to Governor Sebelius, was so confusing that I wrote back requesting clarification. I had to communicate this request by writing on the processed fibers of dead trees, which were then delivered to Topeka by carbon-spewing trucks operated by the United States Postal Service, as Ms. Copp did not share an email address with me.
My records request had specifically asked that the email records I was requesting be delivered to me electronically. That seemed to make a lot of sense, as email is nothing if not electronic. But the governor’s office won’t comply with that request.
The governor’s office, legitimately, must review the emails to determine whether any fall under the exceptions to the open records act. The office will do that by reading the emails on a computer. Then, if an email is judged not to fall under one of the exemptions, it will be printed and sent to me, at a cost of $.25 per page.
There seems to be no interest at the governor’s office in providing the records in any other form. I could wind up spending thousands of dollars to print thousands of pages of spam.
The Wichita Eagle wrote a story about this, and a few of the comments left by readers on the newspaper’s website were alarming. One comment read: “The request was irresponsible! If there was a legitimate need for particular information, that would be one thing, but to demand all of the emails the Governor received across any given four days is ludicrous, and wasteful. … If there was a specific issue needing verified or researched, and a public need or good, then the fees would be onerous.”
I might ask this writer these questions: Who determines what qualifies as a “legitimate need?” How would I know if there was a specific issue needing research, without seeing all the emails? Should we rely on government agencies to judge which records will satisfy our interests?
Another reader left a comment that made a charge of hypocrisy for the media wanting government records to be open, but refusing to open their own records. This reader has forgotten the difference between the government and a private institution.