Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today signed an executive order creating an Idaho public records ombudsman’s office under his office, charged with collecting information and compiling concerns and complaints about state agencies’ compliance with Idaho laws requiring disclosure of public records, and working with the governor, stakeholders and the public to come up with improvements to Idaho’s system.
“What we’re announcing today is the beginning of a process for the establishment of a consistent program for either denying or accepting public records requests,” Otter said. “Before now, the only remedy for somebody being denied a public records request was going to court.”
Otter’s executive order doesn’t change that – that’s still the law. But the governor said his new ombudsman’s office, which he can create on his own by executive order, will lay the groundwork for making a case to the Legislature next year – with all stakeholders involved – on how to make the process better.
“In the next six or seven months, we’re going to amass this information,” Otter said. “I’m going to have to go to the Legislature and say we’ve got stuff in the statute that we can take out, or we’ve got additional stuff that we should put into the statute.”
Otter named Cally Younger, associate counsel in his office, as the new public records ombudsman. “What I envision is Cally saying to an agency, ‘You are without statutory or legal grounds to deny this.’ That’s what I envision,” he said.
Establishing such an office under the Idaho Attorney General’s office, which already advises state agencies on public records law issues, has been discussed for years, but hasn’t happened due to lack of funding. Otter said he’s not seeking any additional funding at this point. “Cally’s already on staff and she’s a very industrious employee, works very hard,” he said.
Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said the attorney general’s office doesn’t have the power to create such an office by executive order, and the governor’s office does. Otter thanked the Newspaper Association of Idaho, an association of Idaho newspaper publishers, and the group’s lobbyist, Jeremy Pisca, for spurring the move. “I want to build a process that gives some relief ahead of going to court,” Otter said. “That’s what this is all about.”