An August 27 Carroll County Times editorial took the State and local governments to task for an alleged lack of transparency and called for the creation of a board or ombudsman to oversee public information requests. Citing the State’s health exchange and the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents’ Big 10 decision, the Times opined that the recent establishment of the Council on Open Data was only the first step in getting state agencies to comply with existing open records laws. The Times editorial was also critical of the position of the Carroll County Commissioners that the recipient names for certain email distribution lists were not public information.
But secrecy in government goes much deeper than [the health care exchange and Board of Regents] illustrations. Governments and agencies at all levels for years have employed a range of tactics, from ignoring requests to making absurd claims about the cost of retrieving the information, in their efforts to keep secrets.
And while the decisions of the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board highlight many of the most common ways that public bodies try to avoid scrutiny, the state has no similar board or ombudsman to oversee agencies that deliberately block records requests. The result is that people wanting the information have to embark on long and costly legal battles, such as the battle that the Times engaged in along with several other media organizations when our board of county commissioners tried unsuccessfully to keep their email distribution lists secret.
The Council on Open Data’s first priority should be getting state agencies to comply with existing open records laws.