Open Records inform public, increase accountability

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By Taylor Riley

As the editor of this news organization, and a longtime journalist in my own right, I have to admit I’ve been feeling really anxious lately.

 No, it wasn’t because of the demanding deadlines I have — not only every week for the paper, but in my graduate program I took on simultaneously. And no, it wasn’t the day-to-day anxiety I feel due to my diagnosed anxiety disorder.

 I felt that familiar ping of worry when State Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Paducah) introduced Senate Bill 14, which would create new sections of KRS Chapter 61. The bill, filed Dec. 14, threatened to eviscerate the Open Records Act.

 Sen. Carroll intended for the bill to shield personal information of some public employees, including police, firefighters and judges, but it would have done much, much more to change the Open Records Law enacted in 1976.

 This bill would have hidden certain information from the public about how government agencies are performing their primary functions. To us at the Local, and to other news organizations, this means it would prohibit the release of information about misuse or abuse of government power.

 As journalists, we are watchdogs over the government. We feel responsible for letting you know when elected and appointed officials, as well as departments of the city and state, aren’t doing their jobs.

 This bill would have effectively closed all records of complaints about the improper actions of public officials, including records that disclose the efforts of government agencies to cover up their own failures, according to a statement of opposition from the Kentucky Press Association.

This bill would have dramatically altered the Open Records Law, deterring public officials from complying with many records requests. It would have discouraged the submission of open records requests by the public and the press.

As journalists, we are trying to keep the government as accountable and as transparent as possible.

OK, so I buried the lede a little bit. In journalism terms, this means that I didn’t tell you in the beginning that Sen. Carroll withdrew the bill on Jan. 9. I didn’t tell you, because I wanted you to empathize with your local journalists; to feel the anxiety we could have felt if this bill would have gone through the Senate and eventually into law.

But, that’s not all. I want you to know that this problem may have been resolved for now, but it will most certainly come up again.

So what’s the bottom line?

The Open Records law helps us as journalists, and you as the public, monitor the actions of state and local government. Any bill that would change current law could reverse more than 40 years of important court rulings that have allowed us to see what the government is really doing.

It would destroy transparency.

If you feel as strongly about this subject as we do, talk with our local legislators. Representing Henry County is Sen. Paul Hornback. He can be reached at (502) 564-8100 ext. 779.

Also, support your local journalists. Buy the paper or read it online. Whatever your fancy, pay for news. Keeping the government accountable isn’t free.

Support for journalists is support for Open Records law.