By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines' working group to make Wyoming a more transparent state met Friday to chart a path forward.
But its members cautioned it likely would be a long process.
The Financial Transparency Working Group that Gordon and Racines announced in the final months of last year's campaign has tasked itself with working to solve multiple issues related to access to public documents and financial information. Friday's meeting was mostly laying out the challenges the group would need to address, and planning the first steps toward making some impact as quickly as possible.
Gordon said the group would keep working to gather information about what needs to be done on both the local and state levels, as well as figure out potential costs.
"The point of it is these are people who are committed and want to drive the agenda. This has been one of (Racines') main points; this has been one of my main points," Gordon said.
"You're going to see things come out of this group. It's a process."
Along with Gordon and Racines, the group includes: Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper; Kristen Czaban, publisher of The Sheridan Press; Cheyenne attorney John Masters; Gail Symons, who also sits on the state's Government Efficiency Commission; and Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.
There has been public pressure on Wyoming to improve its current rating as one of the states with the worst level of government transparency. Former State Auditor Cynthia Cloud was sued for allegedly taking too long to release public documents, and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess backed Gordon after his loss in the Republican primary in
part because of Gordon's pledge to bring more governmental transparency when in office.
OpentheBooks.com, the group behind the lawsuit against Cloud's office, took part in the group's meeting by conference call. Adam Andrzejewski, who founded the national transparency group, said he would include Racines in the lawsuit if spending records they've requested weren't turned over in 30 days.
Gordon said he and his staff were working to get that information to them before the deadline.
"We're going to get a list of salaries delivered so people know who gets paid what," Gordon said.
Of immediate interest to the group was the public records bill set to hit the Legislature soon. Senate File 57, as it's currently written, would direct agencies to designate a public records holder and give them seven days to respond to a request.
Currently, Wyoming law states a response has to be made to a request in a "reasonable amount of time," which isn't clearly defined and could lead to requests being essentially ignored.
The bill also includes misdemeanor and felony penalties for employees who unknowingly or knowingly disregard a legitimate request. Those penalties are a sticking point for some in government, Racines said.
While Case argued that there needs to be teeth in the bill to ensure agencies don't ignore any new law, Racines said it would instead result in a culture of fear that wouldn't solve the current issue.
"That part of it is creating a lot of fear, and I'm not sure adding fear onto the problem is (helpful). I understand why it's in there," Racines said. "We really want to create more of an atmosphere - not to sound too touchy-feely - but that public records
are OK. They're not scary. Let's educate these smaller agencies so we can get to that goal."
The group hasn't announced when its next meeting will take place.