For Immediate Release: October 9th, 2014
Senator Wielechowski to File Legislation Strengthening Public Records Act in Light of Recent Abuses
Changes Will Ensure Greater Accountability and Transparency
ANCHORAGE – Today Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) announced he will file legislation strengthening the Alaska Public Records Act in the face of the Administration’s unjustified and wholesale denial of requests for documents pertaining to sexual assault in the National Guard.
The Governor’s Office recently turned down requests by members of the media that sought to clarify when the Governor, who serves as Commander in Chief of the National Guard, received reports of sexual assault and how his office responded to those reports.
While Alaska regulations require that public records requests be answered within 10 to 20 working days, it took the Governor’s Office 86 days to respond to the request submitted by the Alaska Public Radio Network. And then the response completely ignored the legal requirements.
The requests had asked for all communications between the Governor’s Office, members of the Guard, and top officials at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs since 2010 regarding the sexual abuse scandal. If the Administration believed it couldn’t provide any documents for reasons allowed under the Act – even by redacting names to protect the privacy of victims—the request asked for a log of withheld documents and the legal justification for doing so.
That so-called “privilege log” was not provided, despite being required by the Administration’s own regulations. Sen. Wielechowski noted that he had requested documents pertaining to Medicaid expansion earlier in the year, and the Administration did not respond to his and other Public Records Act requests for much longer than the law allows.
"Governor Parnell has clearly and repeatedly broken the law. This is a very dangerous trend if we allow this to continue,” said Senator Wielechowski. “The Alaska Public Records Act is supposed to allow citizens to keep an eye on what their government is doing. Hiding these documents is a serious breach of public trust and flouts a well-established law.”
Wielechowski said he would introduce legislation explicitly requiring a “privilege log” with a list of all withheld documents, the names of the sender and the recipient, the general subject matter and date, and the specific legal reasons for withholding the document rather than just redacting sensitive material. He also noted that his legislation would strengthen penalties for noncompliance.
He added, “The Governor ignored the legal requirements of Public Records Act regulations, so we are going to put them into statute and strengthen them. Alaskans deserve transparency and to know what their government is doing and why.”
For more information, contact Senator Wielechowski at (907) 242-1558.