As the number of Right to Know requests being filed with state agencies increases, officials are trying to balance access to public documents with the cost of fulfilling the queries.
Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice has been working with the state for 20 years and has seen a steady increase in the volume of Right to Know requests filed each year.
Fulfilling those requests comes at a cost. For Fiscal Year 2010 and 2011, the attorney general’s office estimates it spent $362,000 responding to requests. That includes time spent reviewing emails that may have contained confidential information.
“This is an issue for everyone statewide in state government because all of our state agencies are experiencing these kinds of requests, and for everyone, it becomes a burden that is difficult to meet because of limited staff," Rice said.
With lawmakers looking to craft the next two-year budget, Rice says her office doesn’t want to restrict access, but wants to ensure agencies have the staff to respond to requests in a timely manner.
"It lessens our ability to respond to other things like requests for legal advice from our state agencies or criminal investigations," Rice said.
It's not just the media filing the requests, Rice said.
"We get lots of requests from private citizens, from different kinds of organizations that are looking for information. It's the whole range of people who can ask," she said.
When a Right To Know request is filed, agencies have five business days to respond to the request, acknowledging receipt. At that point, the request either has to be fulfilled or the agency has to let the person making the request know how long it will take to fulfill.
"It always requires some sort of a search for documents," Rice said. "When we get requests for email, for example, we have to go through every single email that may be responsive to that request and review the content of it."
There's no easy answer, Rice said. More staff to deal specifically with Right To Know requests would help, but the important thing is to not restrict access to the public, she said.
"We have the obligation to be transparent, but we need to be able to fund that so we can respond timely," she said.