From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 28 - October 5, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Public records
Government in Sunshine – Part Two
by Cat Urbigkit

Editor’s note: The Examiner has noted an increasing tendency toward secrecy on behalf of certain agencies, from local boards to state agencies and federal bureaus. This unsettling trend is contrary to state and federal laws calling for the public business to be conducted in full public view. This is the second installation of a multi-part series that lays out the laws providing for “government in sunshine” as well as outlining some of the obstacles currently encountered in the quest for public information.

The Wyoming Records Act provides the public with a right of inspection of records of state government and political subdivisions including county, city, school district and special districts within the state.

“All public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times,” the law states, with certain exceptions defined in the act or in accordance with other laws. The official custodian of any public records may make rules and regulations with reference to the inspection of the records “as is reasonably necessary for the protection of the records and the prevention of unnecessary interference with the regular discharge of the duties of the custodian or his office.”

The “official custodian” is any officer or employee who is responsible for the maintenance, care and keeping of public records.

 Public records includes the original and copies of any paper or other document, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that have been made by or received by any political subdivision of state government in connection with the transaction of public business, except those privileged or confidential by law.

 According to the law, official public records includes “all original vouchers, receipts and other documents necessary to isolate and prove the validity of every transaction relating to the receipt, use and disposition of all public property and public income from all sources whatsoever; all agreements and contracts to which the state or any agency or subdivision thereof is a party; all fidelity, surety and performance bonds; all claims filed against the state or any agency or subdivision thereof; all records or documents required by law to be filed with or kept by any agency or the state of Wyoming; and all other documents or records determined by the records committee to be official public records.”

The law includes provisions for reviewing records in active use, storage or in electronic format.

The law provides for some exemptions to public disclosure, including if it were a violation of other state or federal law or high court order.

The law provides that the disclosure of certain information would be contrary to the public interest, including records related to law enforcement investigations, licensing examinations, ongoing, research projects, real estate appraisals (until deal is finalized), building information that could be used to plan a terrorist attack, and “interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a private party in litigation with the agency.”

Generally, the law provides that certain personal information about individuals is protected from release, including medical files (except coroners’ autopsy reports), adoption or welfare records, personnel files, letters of reference, privileged or confidential financial or commercial information, student records, library patron information, 911 information.

 The law notes that employment contracts, working agreements or other documents setting forth the terms and conditions of employment of public officials and employees “are not considered part of a personnel file and shall be available for public inspection.”

If the custodian denies access to any public record, the applicant may request a written statement of the grounds for the denial. The statement shall cite the law or regulation under which access is denied and shall be furnished to the applicant. Lawsuits over records are to be filed in district court.

 In all cases in which a person has the right to inspect and copy any public records he may request that he be furnished copies, printouts or photographs for a reasonable fee to be set by the official custodian.

Any person who “willfully and knowingly” violates the provisions of the act is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $750.

See next week’s Examiner for Part Three of this series, which will tackle some of the problems the public encounters in trying to access records held by government agencies.

See The Archives for past articles.

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