The right to know. That is the purpose of the state’s open records/meetings laws — to mandate the transparent operation of our government. And this month, Kentucky celebrates the 20th anniversary of the laws’ major rewriting.
All citizens have the right to know what their governments are doing and how they’re spending the public’s money.
But all too often, we citizens choose not to hold our elected leaders accountable. When is the last time you took an hour and a half and attended a fiscal court or city council/commission meeting? When was the last time you, for the sake of curiosity, asked to see the expense report for the school superintendent or county judge-executive?
It’s a freedom that Americans too easily dismiss and people in other countries cannot fathom.
We’re fortunate to have laws that require our government to be open. That is not the case in many countries.
“Freedom of information in Britain is more like a candle flame than the sunshine laws familiar to Americans,” wrote Heather Brooke in a column on sunshineweek.org in 2007.
Laws requiring government to be open ensure accountability.
It’s the job of news organizations and the public at-large to ensure what is happening in Britain does not happen here.
A public record is any record maintained by a state or local government agency.
Those can range from minutes of a school-board meeting to the mayor’s expense report. Those records also include e-mails, databases and other records electronically generated and/or stored.
The process of obtaining public records is a simple one. In most cases, simply asking for a certain record should be sufficient. However, some agencies require a written notice, and they have three business days to respond to a request.
The law does not require you give a reason to inspect the record. They are there for the asking, but you do have to ask.
Items open for public inspection include but are not limited to: city/county payroll records; expense reports; audits and budgets; police and fire reports (including arrest citations); jail logs; meeting minutes; and marriage licenses
Twenty years after the laws were rewritten, it is amazing how very few people, including news agencies, make use of the law. And a lot of times, public officials really don’t have a full understanding of the open-records law.
So on the 20th anniversary of the laws’ rewrite, we urge you to become more aware and take advantage of your right to know. A good place to start is the Kentucky Attorney General’s website. It provides everything you need to know, along with some templates, to request a public record.
— The Jessamine Journal