Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indiana fails 2009 Sunshine Week survey

The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information was published last week in this on-line report.

The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information on-line found that while more and more government records are being posted on-line, some of the most important information is being left off-line. In some cases governments are charging taxpayers to access records that they already paid for, such as death certificates.
Teams of surveyors scanned government Web sites in every U.S. state to look for 20 different types of public records. The results were released March 15, the start of Sunshine Week 2009, which runs through March 21.

The 20 categories were: death certificates, financial disclosures, audit reports, project expenditures, department of transportation projects, bridge inspection reports, fictitious registration of business names, disciplinary actions against attorneys, disciplinary actions against medical physicians, hospital inspection reports, nursing home inspection reports, child care center inspection reports, statewide school test scores, teacher certifications, school building inspections, school bus inspections, gas pump overcharges, consumer complaints against businesses, environmental citations, and campaign finance information.

The only state found to provide information on-line in all the categories surveyed was Texas. New Jersey was a close second with 18.

The state with the least information on-line was Mississippi. It posted information from only four categories on-line; DOT contracts and projects, fictitious business name registrations, statewide school test scores, and political campaign contributions and expenses. Indiana ranked next to last with seven categories available on-line. This dismal distinction was shared with three other states.
Indiana did make a step in the direction towards more open records this week. Senate Bill 232 which penalizes officials for intentional violations of Indiana's public access law as well as provides for citizens, not just media, to receive advance notice of meetings passed the Senate and now moves on to the House.

I testified about this bill in February of this year citing the need for greater public access and for measures to be put in place to assist those who are denied access to public records. I currently have a lawsuit pending against the County of Boone, the Town of Thorntown and Judge Rebecca McClure for their intentional violations of the public access law. This included McClure ordering that I am to submit request for public records from Thorntown to her for her review. This was after attorney Cy Gerde, who represents Thorntown, complained that I sought the records of stalking complaints made against a Thorntown police officer and he didn't want to be compelled by the APRA to furnish those records.

The Indiana Public Access Counselor has ruled that Gerde violated the law on numerous occasions. When asked by Judge Hughes for his basis for wanting my lawsuit dismissed Gerde simply argued that if the law was the way I wanted it then this lawsuit wouldn't be allowed. There is no need to speculate as to why Gerde doesn't want town records to be made public. One of the request which was unlawfully denied was for the warrants for payments by the town to Cy Gerde.

With attorney's like Carlyle Gerde and judges like Rebecca McClure intentionally violating the public access laws it is going to take pro-active work on the part of public officials to make the records available before a request needs to be made. Don't expect change to come to Indiana anytime soon.


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