Next month the first meeting of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s task force on the state’s open records/meetings laws will take place. As SAB readers know I have been appointed to that task force, and today at Watchdog I write about some of the areas where I think the laws could be improved.
I’ll summarize here:
- Public entities shouldn’t get to define the facts of an open records/meetings violation
- Opinions on violations of the law need to happen faster, and there need to be consequences for those who violate the law
- Currently citizens have only 90 days to file a complaint over unnoticed meetings, and only 30 days for other meetings/records violations. That should be longer.
- We need to make sure public entities can’t inflate legally allowed copy/research fees to dissuade access to records
I don’t know yet that I have the right answers to solve all of these problems in ways that won’t create more problems, but I do think that each of these areas is worthy of discussion by the task force.
I am an opinionated guy, and I write and report on provocative and controversial topics with a definite point of view. But one thing that is beyond partisan or ideological disagreement, I think, is the idea that government should be as open as possible, and that citizen access to public meetings and records should be easy.
Not just for myself – though I do spend a lot of time requesting public records – but for anyone who wants to know what their public servants are doing.
North Dakota’s current transparency laws are very good, relative to what people in other states have to deal with. But we can always do better.