Did you know you can read the governor’s emails? Or find out how much public employees get paid? How about reading court records? Building permits, teacher contracts, even restaurant inspection reports?
With only a handful of exceptions, every document prepared by the government is open for you to see. In Idaho, the government belongs to you.
The state’s open-records laws aim to ensure that the business of government happens openly and transparently. It’s a check and balance – a tool of the public – that allows us to monitor the actions of public officials.
The Times-News uses open-records laws every day to help keep you informed and the government in check. By and large, we get the records we ask for. In the rare cases we don’t, the newspaper has pursued the records in court.
But the laws aren’t just there for journalists. Everyone has equal access.
In today’s edition, our reporting team unpacks the state’s open-records laws through records requests we thought relevant to our readers’ lives. Our aim isn’t just to test the records laws – it’s to show you how to use them and what you might expect if you go searching for government documents.
Unfortunately, efforts are underway to curb your access to your government. You can read about those in today’s edition, too. We hope you’re just as alarmed as we are by some of the efforts to keep you – the public – from finding out what your government is up to.
Laws in a book are meaningless unless they’re applied, so we encourage you to take advantage. In a political season when so many Americans seem upset by their government, open-records laws provide a perfect avenue for you to get involved, hold your government accountable and participate in our democracy. Don’t just vote and sit back and watch. Open-records laws enable you to stay involved in the government long after the votes have been counted.
Sunshine Week, an annual national initiative to educate the public about records laws, is March 13-19. So file a records request and let us know how you fared. Send us a letter or give us a call.
Need help? As champions of open government, our reporters and editors are always willing to answer questions and share advice about pursuing records.
We hope you’ll join us in the effort to keep our government open, transparent and accountable to the people.