Some Local Governments Are Suspending Public Records Requests in Response to Coronavirus
Will government transparency become a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic? That’s the fear after some cities and counties announced they would be suspending public records requests.
Reporters across the country are seeing more and more of this: government agencies indefinitely delaying public records requests because of #coronavirus #COVID19 #FOIAI've seen:DallasFresnoHawaiiAnd now Fremont, CAJournos: where else have you received a similar response? pic.twitter.com/1lBzX1n25r— Matt Drange (@mattdrange) March 19, 2020
At least one city, Fresno, has already given the matter reconsideration. After voting to suspend its obligation to provide public records during the public health crisis, Fresno leaders backtracked last week. The city now says public records may be delayed, but not suspended.
Any other governments considering suspension of pubic records obligations would also be wise to backtrack, said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.
“While I’m totally sympathetic to staffing and other issues cities may now be facing, and understand that slower responses to public records requests may be required, the fact remains that the California Public Records Act is still the law of the land,” Snyder told the Los Angeles Times.
Even in crisis—and especially in crisis—transparency matters.