Our view: No sense

Explanation of email decisions more troubling than the emails

June 13, 2011 

The governor's office apparently never thought to make the Palin emails available in electronic form, despite an ease of doing so that has everyone from state lawmakers to the people who finally scanned them shaking their heads.

Linda Perez of the governor's office told the Juneau Empire that the commercial printer the state used to make paper copies of the emails was never asked to re-digitize them.

Neither she nor Sharon Leighow, Gov. Sean Parnell's spokeswoman, could recall who made the decision not to ask for electronic copies, which apparently could have been easily and more cheaply scanned onto a CD-ROM -- a memory loss intended, apparently, to avoid embarrassing someone.

Further, Perez refused to name the commercial printer the state used, telling the Empire it could file a public records request for the name. Sadly, that's consistent with the ham-handed and petulant way the Parnell administration has fumbled the release of these public records from the beginning, dragging its feet and making public access to public records as difficult as possible.

Only the protests of lawmakers like Sen. Dennis Egan of Juneau got the administration to reverse its ridiculous decision not to make the records available for viewing anywhere other than Juneau. Since then, news organizations that have paid to scan the records and make them available online have said the technology is commonplace, and that the refusal to use that technology looked deliberate. One said the entire exercise seemed like something from the 1950s.

Egan told the Empire he was astounded at the state's handling of the emails.

Here's why this is important. It's not the emails themselves, which so far don't appear to include any great revelations. It's the contempt for the public records law. Gov. Parnell's policy in this matter has been to do as little as possible to satisfy the letter of the law while violating its spirit and thwarting its purpose. With limited exceptions provided by law, government business is public business.

Ready availability of public records should be a matter of course.

Reasonable payment for copies also is provided for in the law -- if records are available online, people print them at their own expense anyway. But what the governor's office said was that interested parties had to pay to copy and ship the whole load sight unseen, and the governor's staff still hasn't offered a plausible explanation for that decision. The administration's foot-dragging naturally raises suspicions about why -- and about the reasons for some of the redactions and withheld emails. After their performance so far, there is no reason to trust the redaction and withholding judgment of an office full of holdovers from the Palin administration.

Chances are the public emails will be of passing interest. But the attitude of the administration toward public records law and the rights of Alaskans has eroded public trust. And that's of permanent interest.

BOTTOM LINE: Parnell administration needs to get religion about public records and access.

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