Fall 2009-#8. Access Government Records.

Author:Reviewed by Mark D. Oettinger, Esq.

Vermont Bar Journal


Fall 2009-#8.

Access Government Records

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 3Fall 2009Access Government RecordsA Handbook of Necessarily Limited UtilityReviewed by Mark D. Oettinger, Esq.I was drawn to this book because I am a government lawyer who receives a significant number of public records requests. I had just been asked to determine the extent to which my agency could be required to sort out and print electronic data in response to a public records request. Before the computer era, there was a general and simplistic rule governing this area that goes something like this: in response to a public records request, an agency must only disclose reports that it has, and it cannot be required to create reports that do not exist.

Our agency has plenty of reports, but it also has a vast amount of raw data stored in immense databases. The data are inputted in such a manner that they can be disaggregated and compiled easily, and the results can be displayed in almost limitless formats. For example, if a member of the public wants to know what percentage of Vermont's poor female sixth-graders scored "below proficient" on the math portion of their standardized tests, someone who works closely with the data can answer the question, and print a report, in about ten minutes. Interestingly, much (but not quite all) of the information necessary to answer this question is available on the agency's website, and a reasonably sophisticated member of the public can derive a partial answer to the question in perhaps an hour. It would probably take another hourto discover that the missing piece is ... missing.

lnthis 6"x9" ABA soft cover book, I did get the answer to my general question rather quickly. Although there are at least three branches of the emerging case law, a common thread is that just because a pre-prepared report does not exist, does not mean that the agency is excused from spending ten minutes to generate a simple...

To continue reading