Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ask the Government: It'll Tell, Most of the Time; Businesses Ask for Open Records, but It's the Media That Fight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ask the Government: It'll Tell, Most of the Time; Businesses Ask for Open Records, but It's the Media That Fight

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - Retired industrial engineer Ronald Miller wanted to compare the cost of educating a child in his county to others in the state, prompting him to make a formal request under Georgia's Open Records Act.

In response to his fax, a lawyer at the Department of Education made sure he wasn't requesting anything that must be kept confidential by law - such as individual student files or Social Security numbers. Then, he was given an estimate of the cost of collecting the requested data, which was sent to him once he agreed.

"They are extremely good," Miller said. "If you want a breakdown of data that's not on a [government] Web site, you go to them, and they'll charge you, but it's not an unreasonable charge."

The Sandy Springs retiree's request was one of 160 requests made last year to the department. And, like the majority of requests at that agency and the other major state departments, it wasn't made by a reporter or researcher from the news media.

WHO'S ASKING

Only 13 formal requests to the Education Department last year came from reporters.

"We comply with most everything," said Gregg Stevens, assistant general counsel for the department. "There are few that we can't comply with."

For example, he did reject a marketing company's request for the mailing addresses of all the teachers in the state.

Most requests made of state agencies come from attorneys or vendors who do business with the state.

Several agencies have expanded the information available to the public on Web sites so that formal requests aren't needed, or they simply respond over the phone when people call with questions.

"We consider it part of providing information to the public that they're entitled to have," said Sam Hall, spokesman for the Department of Labor.

Newly elected Secretary of State Karen Handel has directed professional licensing boards reporting to her to release what were formerly known as "secret orders" sanctioning professionals. …

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