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Local Government Agencies Have Poor Response To Open Records Requests

Christian Schnettelker

Local governmental agencies are not very responsive to public records requests made via e-mail, according to an Indiana University study.

Indiana law requires government agencies to respond to a records request within seven days, even if they don’t have the requested information.

But in a joint study between IU’s Media School and the Indiana Coalition for Open Government found that of 90 emailed requests to local government agencies, including sheriff’s departments, county commissioners’ offices and health departments across 30 randomly selected counties, only 48 received responses.

“Indiana’s law is pretty clear that this information is for the people. This is not information that is kept solely for the government agency to keep in a filing cabinet or on a hard drive,” says IU researcher Craig Lyons, who partnered with fellow master’s students Samim Arif and DeJuan Foster.

Indiana state public access counselor Luke Britt says he doesn’t think local agencies are trying to hide information.

He points out Indiana has what is called “home rule,” meaning the state typically defers to local agencies first when it comes to administrative tasks. There is also no statewide system to inform local agencies about public access laws.

“There are certain areas in the state that I see have more problems than others but by and large, it’s a learning curve for these folks,” Britt says.

Britt says he regularly travels the state to raise awareness about public records, but the constant turnover in government agencies, because of elections, makes retaining institutional knowledge difficult.