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Otter names Idaho public records ombudsman

Thu., April 24, 2014

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed an executive order Wednesday creating an Idaho public records ombudsman to manage concerns and complaints.

The new ombudsman will collect information about state agencies’ compliance with Idaho laws requiring disclosure of public records and work with the governor, stakeholders and the public to improve 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.”

That’s still the law. But the governor said his new ombudsman’s office can help make the process better.

“In the next six or seven months, we’re going to amass this information,” Otter said. Then he’ll go to the Legislature next year and recommend additions or deletions to the public records 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,’ ” he said.

Establishing such an entity under Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’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 doesn’t have the power to create such an office by executive order, and the governor 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.”

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