This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When people start complaining about the burden public records requests place on local and state government, there is usually one element to the conversation that is missing: the evidence.
Salt Lake City's program to log and track all Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests brings real numbers to the debate. It is also worth copying as local and state leaders analyze the true costs of providing public information. Such record-tracking systems also make government more accountable to the people it serves.
In her office on the fourth floor of City Hall, Sonya Kintaro, the city's chief deputy recorder, can easily access statistics about the number and scope of GRAMA requests the city has received since June 2010. Some 713 records requests have been processed through the system, including more than 389 this year.
Salt Lake City International Airport was the city agency with the most requests in 2011, about 194. Kintaro notes that employees are still learning the system, and the actual numbers may be higher.
And of all those hundreds of requests, only a couple dozen came from the media.
Along with the tracking program, Kintaro has helped make the GRAMA request procedure uniform. Employees across city departments are trained how to respond to requests and use the system. In many cases, residents can use an easy-to-find form on the city's website to submit a records request. City workers also can enter a request into the system. Either way, the system starts the clock ticking on the request and reminds employees when the response deadline nears. Under Utah law, most officials have to respond to a records request within 10 working days. An expedited response should come within five working days.
"In the past, they [city employees] tended to put off records requests," she said.
Along with the technological improvements, Kintaro sees a change in culture at City Hall. Instead of taking records requests lightly, training helps city workers understand that providing public information is part of their role in a healthy democracy.
"Openness is more apparent. They [employees] understand in the training we are serious about GRAMA," she said.
The city has also reduced the cost of responses by scanning in paper documents or providing electronic versions. Kintaro said the city doesn't usually charge for electronic versions of records. In some places in Utah, GRAMA requests are still answered with reams of paper and a large research and printing bill.
Joel Campbell is a former reporter and current associate professor of communications at Brigham Young University. His reporting does not necessarily reflect the views of BYU. He writes on First Amendment and open-government issues for The Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.