CHEYENNE – Building on 30-years-experience in the federal government in Washington, D.C., Goshen County native Ruth Van Mark spent her first days as Wyoming’s first-ever Public Records Ombudsman pouring over state law to learn her new responsibilities.
“I see my role as a problem solver,” Van Mark said Tuesday. “Monday was my first day on the job. Right now, I’m going through, learning what the Public Records Act in Wyoming requires.”
Before returning to eastern Wyoming, Van Mark served as Minority Staff Director for the U.S. Senate committee on Environment and Public Works, and as Majority Staff Director of the EPW transportation subcommittee. She served six years as legislative director for Sen. James Inhofe from Oklahoma. She also made a bid in 2018 for the Wyoming House of Representatives.
Van Mark holds a bachelor’s in political science from Bethel University and a master’s in public administration from George Mason University.
All that ties in well with her new role as mediator between state agencies and the media, organizations and private citizens - anyone who believes they’re being wrongly denied access to public records, she said.
“In my previous employment, I was basically a person who had to work with the party on the other side of the aisle,” Van Mark said. “To keep things moving, you have to make compromises, to see if there’s a way to work together on things. I worked in Congress for 30 years, probably 20 years of those in situations like that.”
The position of Public Records Ombudsman came into being after the 2019 legislative general session and the passage of Senate File 57, signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on March 8. The law established a time limit on government agencies responding to public record requests, required appointment of designated individuals to be in charge of the public records for each agency or governmental entity and created the job of ombudsman to mediate between government offices and the public.
Prior to creation of this position, disputes that arose when public records requests were denied had to be resolved via the courts. Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney who deals with First Amendment law, has handled numerous cases working with the Wyoming Press Association. He was quoted in a report shared by the Wyoming News Exchange, noting there’s “a lot riding on how the first person in this position handles the job.”
Part of her job as the first ombudsman will be creation of a standardized process for handling records disputes. Van Mark illustrated that point through a fictional public records request denied by the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
Her experience in government “qualifies me to listen to both sides and find a way to come up with on everyone can be please with,” Van Mark said. “In my previous experience, I know there are times where that’s not possible – but I think, more times than not, we can come up with solutions.”
In a press release Monday, Gordon said, “(Van Mark) is poised to strike the right balance in appreciating the parameters of the Wyoming Public Records Act and appreciating the importance this administration has placed on transparency.”