EDITORIAL: Public records

The people’s right to access of public records will be influenced, probably at Friday’s meeting, in guidelines adopted by the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
The highly anticipated guidelines, it is hoped, will be used to guide public agencies and officials in dealing with requests for access to records, which includes most of the truncations of government in all its functions, branches, extensions and subdivisions, with a few exceptions already stated in law.
The commission, under a recent law, has been given the power of recommending resolutions of disputes about access to public records, including the costs of obtaining them.
Access to records is open to everyone. Requests for access are most often associated with reporters working on a story, lawyers representing clients, or researchers, especially those establishing records of transactions.
The commission’s proposed model rules clearly state, “The overall goal of the model rules is to encourage an attitude of compliance among public bodies and a spirit of cooperation among requesters by standardizing best practices throughout the state. The Ethics Commission encourages state and local agencies to adopt the model rules (but not necessarily the comments) by regulation or ordinance. …
“The model rules use the terms ‘public body’ and sometimes ‘agency’ to refer to either a state or local public body … To assist state and local agencies considering adopting the model rules, an electronic version of the rules is available on the Ethics Commission’s web site, www.ethics.state.ms.us.”
We believe easy, affordable and timely access to all open public records remains foundational in understanding the operations of government. Most public officials don’t stand in the way of access; most private citizens have nothing to hide in seeing their names reported as part of the public record.
Records occasionally contain more than legal, routine and ethical transactions with public entities and/or public funds. That’s when people, sometimes whole boards or other governing bodies, seek to keep pubic records closed – hidden – from the public. That’s all the more reason to ensure that agencies make more than a minimal effort to provide access.
Electronic records, of course, should be the easiest of all records to access because they can be downloaded or viewed from the privacy of a residence or an office remote from an agency’s physical site.
Accessing printed records should be held to a minimal cost in making them portable.
The commission’s work toward a model access procedure should strive for uniformity. Nothing about access to public records should be left to an individual’s whim or agenda.
The public interest comes first, and access drives public interest.

NEMS Daily Journal