Task force can secure the right of ‘every citizen’
"Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute. ..."
Section 36-12-40 is a grand statement of principle in the Code of Alabama, but that same code and several court decisions provide loopholes that some public officials seize on to deny citizens their right without good reason.
Some officials don't even bother to look for loopholes: They willfully disobey the public records law or refuse to educate themselves about it.
Now the Legislature has passed a resolution setting up a 29-member task force to study how to make it easier for the public to obtain access to records. Gov. Bob Riley signed the resolution Friday. The task force is to report to the Legislature by its regular session next year.
The resolution begins with statements that "the average citizen has difficulty in obtaining public records under current open records statutes," "there is no uniform process for the request for public records," and "a reform of Alabama open records laws would give the public easy access to public information and documents."
It would be easy to be cynical about this task force, populated largely by representatives of government agencies and public officials. Members of these same groups have often seemed less than enthusiastic about changing records laws in ways that inquiring citizens would consider "reform."
But fortunately, the task force will include representatives of media groups, the Alabama Center for Open Government, the Alabama League of Women Voters and others who traditionally stand for openness.
And — even more encouraging — this resolution comes against the backdrop of the Legislature's recent passage of a new open meetings law that resulted from a joint effort of many of these same diverse groups. The meetings law looks like a big improvement over its predecessor.
We hope the momentum from that action will help the Alabama Open Records Study Task Force to make a positive difference.