Gaining access to public information can often be a contentious process for journalists or other members of the public, even when government employees charged with providing access have the best intentions. A daylong class next week offered by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NM FOG) aims to help those seeking and providing public information better understand laws and recent court opinions concerning access to public information. And for attorneys, the class provides required continuing legal education credits.
“The continuing legal education class the foundation offers is a great resource for records custodians and attorneys who have an obligation under the law to provide public information,” said NM FOG Executive Director Peter St. Cyr.
“They benefit from the legal insights and analysis of people who specialize in the benefits of transparent and open government, and who are familiar with the most recent court opinions,” he said.
St. Cyr said the Nov. 3 class is open to anyone seeking more information about New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA. It costs $200-250. It will benefit government records custodians in particular, he said.
“They go back empowered with the latest insights and court opinions, and can do a better job guiding political leaders through the process,” St. Cyr said.
Such trainings are right in line with recommendations made in a report released last March by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, prepared by David Cuillier, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
The report examined the current state of freedom of information laws and practices across the country, at the local, state and federal levels, drawing on interviews and surveys with more than 300 “freedom of information experts” — journalists, advocates, scholars and record custodians, among others.
Cuillier described key problems and offered a range of solutions. Problems included less access to public information over the last four years, through the use of exemptions and delays over the past four years; an increase in denials of public information requests, reported by 40 percent of the respondents; and predictions that access going forward will worsen.
At the top of the list of solutions offered in the report was custodian training. Eighty three of the respondents identified the need for training public officials and government employees who handle public information requests to better understand how to comply with freedom of information laws.