This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Some sympathy, perhaps, for the managers of the Utah Transit Authority. The poor folks are apparently drowning in open records requests, requests that staff members, and their lawyers, barely have time to deny before the next one rolls in.
If it's not the press wanting to know the agendas of UTA Board committee meetings, it's the organized opposition to the plans for a new kind of bus service for Orem and Provo demanding details of the agency's communications with the feds. Or labor union organizers who want to discuss just how much taxpayers and riders are forking over to anti-union consultants.
If only someone could invent some simple, routine means, maybe an electronic billboard of some kind, to make all of that information available to anyone who needs it, wants it or is just having trouble sleeping, and do it in a way that requires no extra time or effort on the part of the taxpayer-salaried staff.
They could call it, oh, the internet.
Seriously. Public agencies in Utah, and elsewhere, are the custodians of great mountains of paper, some small portions of it reasonably confidential, which can be a chore to manage and a real pain to search through. But the problem is much worse for all concerned if the approach to record-keeping isn't to accommodate public access from the get-go.
If the assumption is that the records are none of the people's business, or even that the people just don't care, then it doesn't really matter if they are kept, as described by Douglas Adams in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," "in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."
If, on the other hand, everyone assumes that all but a few documents and records are clearly public, then they should not only be kept with that in mind, but created with that understanding.
Many is the government agency that has created a culture where important documents just live online. From state court filings to bills before the Utah Legislature to draft environmental impact statements of both state and federal agencies, more and more public documents aren't just available online, they are born there.
The UTA's new executive director, Jerry Benson, has been with the agency for 32 years, so he is steeped in the agency's culture. A good way for him to show that he understands the need for some big improvements would be to make a big deal of changing the staff's approach to where its records are kept.
At everyone's keyboard.