State’s pattern on records access still leaves many in dark

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 23, 2009

As part of national Sunshine Week activities, newspapers acrossthe state this past week have been running a series of articlesexamining online access to public records and otherinformation.

A national survey ranked Mississippi last in terms of publicinformation that is available online. While the online ranking istroubling, access for people seeking public records in person isdismal as well.

State lawmakers apparently are in no rush to modify thosepatterns. Legislation that would have shortened agencies’ time forresponding to records requests from 14 days to three days, reducedthe amount agencies could charge for document access and openedaccess to 911 tapes all died this year.

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While pockets of sunshine exist at both the state and locallevels, the culture of secrecy that has developed over the years inMississippi still permeates through too many government agenciesand officials. Too often, that shroud keeps members of the publicin the dark about the events, ideas and actions in which thoseagencies and officials are involved.

Without a well-informed citizenry, bad policy and bad politicsare allowed to rule the day. Add to that the fact that those whoare asked to foot the bill, through their tax dollars, are deniedknowledge of how their money is being spent and the problem appearseven worse.

Mississippi ranks last in many national categories, and that’sunfortunate. But perhaps the state could grow in those rankings ifa little more sunshine were allowed to shine in the area in publicrecords access.