Monday, August 05, 2013

Standard-Examiner: Utah’s GRAMA Can Be a Blessing and a Curse for News Agencies

Sodden reminder: If you just lay down like a whipped dog following a bad-faith GRAMA request denial, you merely encourage more government misbehavior

At risk of coming off as "late to the party," we'll shine the spotlight on Saturday's "Behind the Headlines" column, in which the Standard's new managing editor Mark Shenefelt, in the wake of Roy city officials' recent denial of a Standard-Examiner Government Records and Management Act (GRAMA)  request "to release the details of the investigation that apparently led to Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham’s sudden resignation July 17," devotes some irate ink to grousing about "innumerable loopholes with which to delay, deny and wear down even committed requestors, especially those without the wherewithal to engage legal services to keep fighting at the end of standard appeals":
Regular Weber County Forum readers can of course fully empathize with the Standard's plight. What WCF reader can forget our own WCF regular contributor Dan Schroeder's overly-prolonged (but for the most part successful)  or GRAMA battles, for instance?

Down in the Standard's comments section however, the battle-hardened Professor Schroeder offers the Standard a little bit of sage advice (paraphrased for general application and brevity):
"... if the government is using [GRAMA loopholes] to deny a request outright, you should appeal and, if necessary, take them to court. Needless to say, government officials have no incentive to comply with the GRAMA statute if they don't think they'll suffer any consequences from their noncompliance."
Come on, Standard-Examiner. You didn't think these secretive government bureaucrats would just meekly hand over these materials without a fight, did ya's?

Sodden remember.  If you just lay down like a whipped dog following an erroneous and/or bad-faith GRAMA request denial, Mr. Shenenfelt, you merely encourage more government misbehavior.

That's our take; and we're stickin' with it.

 So what say our Gentle WCF Readers about all this?


Dan S. said...

You can get a general idea of which Utah news agencies are serious about their GRAMA requests by looking at who has been appealing denied requests to the State Records Committee:

On that page I count 11 appeals from the Salt Lake Tribune, 3 from City Weekly, 2 from the Deseret News, 2 from KSL, and 1 from ABC.

However, this list wouldn't include most appeals of GRAMA requests to local entities such as cities and counties, because most of them have their own local appeals boards. It would be a lot of work to track down who has been filing appeals with all of these local bodies.

In Ogden, however, I inquired two years ago and was told that the city's Records Review Board hears an average of only about one case each year. I've brought five cases to them since 2007 (two of which were heard at a single hearing). From 2006 through early 2011 (when I inquired) they heard only three other cases: two from individuals and one from the Salt Lake Tribune.

blackrulon said...

While it is nice that the Standard is concerned about GRAMA denials they are somewhat late to expressing curiousity about Government actions. The S-E seemed to have no questions about the conduct of the Matthew Godfrey administration and its fundraising activities.,or the pay for play model of awarding city contracts. But still a late believer is better than nothing.

Carolyn said...

Newspapers should take a lead role in exposing this stuff and then keep on it until something is done about it. That is what community service is all about.

rudizink said...

Great Bob Becker comment on that note in the SE comments section, Carolyn:

"Harassed publishers and editors, struggling to keep a paper, however
diminished, plopping down on my driveway seven days a week ( unlike the
now SomeTimes Picayune of New Orleans or starting today the Occasional
Cleveland Plaindealer) have pretty much given up the role of crusading
newspaper for financial reasons. Ads no longer supply the resources to
allow reporters to devote time to long-developing investigative
journalism etc. I am disappointed but sympathetic.
this issue, the publicness of public records, is one the SE can... I'd
say must... make a continuing crusade, and one conducted gloves off.
Every refusal of a public official or office to deliver public records
on request by the paper should be covered as news. Front page news.
"Ogden City Tries To Hide Public Records...Again!" is a headline the SE
needs to run as often as necessary. ( Sub WC Sheriff or Layton Council
or OSD etc. as needed.)
as Dan points out, the paper needs to go after whoever is trying to
conceal what they're doing... every time. Every elected and appointed
official in the SE's coverage area needs to know, to absolutely know
just as certain as sunrise, that he or she, personally, will become
front page news every time they try to conceal. They need to know, to
absolutely know, that every denial will be appealed, and if it goes to
court and they lose, the morning-after story will include an estimate of
what the attempted cover-up cost the taxpayers.
serious about public access, making cover-ups news, will provide a much
needed remnant fig leaf for the SE's diminished status as a crusading
paper. Going after GRAMA denials hammer and tongs will be good for the
paper and the public. Sounds like a win/win opportunity to me."

Daniel said...

Things Your GRAMA Never Taught You:

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