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Politics & Government

Open Records Office Workload Grows With Emerging Nuances In Transparency Law

The state’s Right-to-Know law is growing up.

The seven-year old statute giving citizens greater access to government records is yielding more complex cases as record requests are appealed and challenged in the courts.    

“Despite a decrease in the number of appeals that were filed with our office, we’ve seen an increase in the actual work that we have to do,” said Open Records Acting Director Nathanael Byerly in a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Byerly is requesting a $300,000 funding boost to the Office of Open Records’ $2 million budget. Wolf proposed to increase the agency’s appropriation by just $139,000.

The agency’s acting director said additional funding would support hearings, mediations and document reviews that the office uses to settle Right-to-Know request appeals.

But there’s also the cost of training open records officers – the people who are the first to see and respond to Right-to-Know requests. Turnover among these officers is high, and newer officers don’t always grasp the finer points of the state’s transparency law.

“They will make common mistakes that can lead to more appeals to our office,” said Byerly. “And if we can get out there and train them initially on these really simplistic matters of the law -- for example, replying within five business days -- that will assist in cutting down on some of the workload for us.”