The Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter published this editorial yesterday. While I’m glad that the editorial staff of the paper have a strong belief in the rights of citizens to public records, they are being a bit optimistic with the suggestion that the
government [shouldn’t] wait to be asked before providing important and not so important information to the public
OK, yes, that would be great. However, since that is not the way things are, there is nothing wrong with making the constraints of the current system work for you. For example, the editorial mentions that the paper has
asked the city how much it has cost to keep the three suspended officers on the payroll from the time of their suspension on Sept. 11 to the present. This should be a simple matter of computing their cumulative salaries and pro-rated benefits.
I’m sure that it would be a simple matter to compute salaries and benefits to get the numbers the paper wants — but that isn’t a public document. It isn’t a public document because the police department has (apparently) not performed that analysis, and therefore there is no document answering what the MHTR describes. The paper is asking for a record that does not exist! Now, if the MHTR really wants to know how much these suspended cops are costing the police department, they are going to need to request public records that actually exist, and do the math themselves. More cumbersome, certainly, than if the PD had already done all the work for them, but an avenue to pursue nevertheless.
I realize that it sounds like I’m coming down hard on people on my side of the open-records fence. I do agree with the thought that “if information is public, then why have to go through making open records requests? Shouldn’t they just be available without asking?”, but inside my (socially liberal, 20something-but-looks-like-a-teenager’s) body beats the heart of a pragmatist. The fact is, right now, we DO have to make requests for public information, and whining that
it is frustrating that we have to put requests for obviously public information in writing
isn’t going to help. So knock it off and start request paystubs and benefit histories.