Every contest needs a referee. And one of the most important qualities for someone to be a good referee is that the person know the rules of the game.
So there is reason to hope that the new umpire appointed to oversee the maintenance of, and public access to, official documents in the state of Utah, State Archives official Rosemary Cundiff, is just the right person to hold the new post of government records ombudsman.
Ideally, of course, the management of public records in Utah would not be a contest at all. It would be a simple, universally held agreement that records and documents that are in the possession of any public agency, from the smallest town to the state itself, are only held by their respective public agency as custodians for their true owners the public.
But it is inevitable that different people will have different interests, and differing interpretations, of Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act. Some may benefit from keeping certain documents under wraps. Others will have honest differences of opinion in reading the few exceptions the law carves out for information that is clearly personal and, thus, justifiably private.
Last year, the Utah Legislature took a blunderbuss approach to the issue and passed the infamous HB477. That was a law that eviscerated the spirit and letter of GRAMA to the point that, after a great hue from the media and cry from the public, it was repealed in less than a month.
This year, after months of study by a state working group, a new bill carefully shepherded by state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, made some small adjustments in GRAMA that included the creation of Cundiff's new post.
The choice means that the ombudsman's duties will be performed by someone who is already well-versed in open records laws and practices. Cundiff has worked for the archives for 12 years and run the records management section for three. The job will also be placed on the plate of someone who already works for the state, with no added staff, saving taxpayers the cost of a new employee and denying opponents the argument that the move costs too much.
Proper management of state records, though, is priceless. So is Cundiff's stated preference for education, mediation and moderation over confrontation, litigation and conflagration.
The new post gives reason to hope that government officials and reporters and members of the public will be able to resolve questions before they become issues, issues before they become disputes, and serve the public interest all around.