By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Calling it a "new era in state government," the CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com applauded new State Auditor Kristi Racines on Tuesday for releasing six years of state checkbook expenditures.
Adam Andrzejewski said in a news release that last Friday, Racines provided all public transactions for 2013-18 to OpenTheBooks.com - operated by American Transparency, a Chicago-based group - and the Equality State Taxpayers Association.
The data release satisfied a public records request first made in 2015 that became the basis of a lawsuit filed last July in Laramie County District Court against former State Auditor Cynthia Cloud.
In addition to providing the records, Racines told the groups that since it cost her office less than $180 to produce them, the documents would be released with no charge. She also refunded the $7,820 fee previously paid by the two groups.
"Auditor Racines embraced the transparency revolution in the digital age," Andrzejewski said in the news release. "Racines was very responsive and now, for the first time in history, the books of state government are open.
"It is a new day in Wyoming. The culture of secrecy regarding state spending is over. There is a marked difference between the Racines administration and what transpired in past administrations."
Kevin Lewis, vice president of the Equality State Taxpayers Association, praised Racines for her responsiveness to the requests his group and OpenTheBooks.com made years earlier. He said he was pleasantly surprised by the refund and said it was a sign of the new direction of leadership in the Auditor's Office.
"I think (Racines) really wanted to do the right thing," Lewis said. "These are the people's documents and the people's expenditures. I think she's actually in the job to do the right thing.
"I really do think (transparency) starts with examples from the top. The top wasn't populated with a lot of good examples in the past. And that's changing, so I'm very hopeful."
Since the lawsuit filed by OpenTheBooks.com and the Equality State Taxpayers Association was still active, Racines said Tuesday she wasn't able to comment on the release of records or the refunds. Lewis said his group and OpenTheBooks.com would soon join with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Racines took over last month from Cloud, who chose not to run for another four-year term. Cloud had denied the original records request on the grounds that compiling state payments would make it impossible for her office to perform essential duties.
Last year, she reversed that position and agreed to provide five years worth of records. But she still hadn't produced all of the promised data before she left office. Cloud told a WTE reporter that extra time was needed to ensure confidential payments to Medicaid recipients or crime victims were redacted.
Cloud also said she had asked state lawmakers to pay for special software that could do the job faster, but they declined to give her the money.
Wyoming often ranks low in national transparency rankings. The state was ranked 49th and received an "F" in a 2015 review by the Center for Public Integrity. An accompanying narrative pointed out flaws in open meetings and public records laws and noted the unusual lack of an independent ethics agency.
Racines and Gov. Mark Gordon announced the formation of a transparency working group during their respective campaigns for office last year. During the group's first meeting since both took office last month, Andrzejewski phoned in and said he would include Racines in the lawsuit if spending records they'd requested weren't turned over in 30 days.
"I want to congratulate Auditor Racines for expeditiously handling this request," Gordon said Tuesday. "It's appropriate, and it's something we talked about and worked on in the transparency working group. This is material that the people of Wyoming are looking forward to seeing.”