Author: Rae Gifford

Transparency in the Archives

Here at the Archives, we have a number of people that are focused on facilitating transparency in government. We took the time to speak with a few of them to see what they do.

Rosemary CundiffRosemary Cundiff is our Government Records Ombudsman. Her days consist of helping the public understand how they can access current government records, helping government employees respond to Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests, and mediating between the two groups.

Since she began this new role about five years ago, Rosemary has consulted with
thousands of individuals.  Regular questions include how to request records, how to appeal a denial, how to respond to GRAMA requests, how to classify records, and how to interpret the GRAMA law (see her Sunshine Week post on GRAMA’s legislative updates).

Another aspect of her position is to assist the State Records Committee by mediating between the public and the governmental entities during the appeals process. Rosemary contacts every group that brings an appeal before the State Records Committee to see if they would like to meet and explore possible compromises. Of those contacts, 123 have accepted and tried to work through the mediation process; 81 have reached a successful resolution.

When asked how she supports transparency in her work, Rosemary stated that “we provide forms, the Open Records Portal, and information for people,both government employees and the public, to use” to help them access public records.

Archives Training TeamNova Dubovik is the Executive Secretary for the State Records Committee and works with our Open Records Portal (see her Sunshine Week post on our Portal to Sunshine). She works to train government employees on the GRAMA law and the process for responding to record requests.

She helps government employees understand their requirements as records officers, shares information about the Open Records Portal and how it can be used by both government employees and the general public, and helps the State Records Committee in their work to balance between an individual’s privacy and government transparency.

When asked about transparency, Nova stated that the public has the right to access government records and she works to make that process easier. “Transparency is important, it’s not just a pain…It is the history of our agencies, and how we handle the issues of government.”

Glen Fairclough, a former newspaperman,Glen Fairclough.jpg is the administrator for our Public Notice Website. He works with government agencies to help them provide access to public meeting information on the Public Notice
Website.

As part of his work, he monitors the law regarding who and what needs to be on the website. There are 3 subsections in the law identifying the different requirements for the different types of agencies. Glen helps all of these agencies to know what needs to be made available and how they can use the Public Notice Website.

When asked about how he supports transparency, Glen noted that the public has the right to access the government information provided at public meetings. The website provides information about upcoming and past meetings. It includes meeting agendas, topics for discussion, meeting locations and maps for directions. Government agencies can also post their meeting minutes or recordings. It is just one more way for our residents to access their government.

The Archives understands the importance of transparency and government accountability, and actively works to promote transparency and trust between government and its citizens. This week we have tried to highlight just a few ways in which we are working to create a relationship built on trust and transparency.swlogo2

Telling the Government’s Story

Defining aswlogo-vc-nr.jpg fact-based, historical government narrative can only be done though existing historical records. As stated previously, government records are the business of the governed and, here at the Utah State Archives, our purpose is “to provide quality access to public information” (Utah Code 63A-12-101 (2)(i)(2010)).

With millions of records in the Archives’ custody, this task can seem overwhelming at times. Our records processing staff, in concert with our wonderful volunteers, diligently work to describe records in
our custody and create research guides, indexes, inventories, finding aids, and other tools for accessing historical records.  Beginning in June of 2006, the Archives also began providing access to records online. Today, there are over one million items available on the Utah State Digital Archives. Each record series that the team is able to process is another set of records easily accessible by the public.

As we process our collections and work to make the records readily available to our residents, the story of our government emerges. Our own Jim Kichas has written about our collection from Utah’s Department of Health regarding the 1950s sheep radiation study (Series 11571). These investigations into sheep deaths in Cedar City, Utah during the 50s were linked by the government to fallout from the Nevada Testing Site, and provide an in-depth look at problems suffered by and the government response to those that were “Downwind in Utah.”

The government record collections here at the Archives can also be used to help everyone understand their personal family history. Gina Strack works tirelessly to provide access to vital records which link us from generation to generation. Birth and death records that have become public records are made available online. Marriage records and Court records (such as divorce and adoption) that have been transferred to the Archives’ custody can be accessed through our Research Center. Using these government records we can understand just how we are connected to our ancestors who created our communities.

These are just two types of records that are preserved by the Archives to provide the foundation for Utah’s fact-based, historical government narrative. There are many more within the collection, and we work to ensure the public can access them. For, as Mizell Stewart III  has written, “Access to meetings, minutes and records of our elected and appointed representatives is a key element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is not strictly for the benefit of the news media.” (Sunshine Week celebrates the public’s right to know, by Mizell Stewart III VP of New Operations, USA Today Network)

Spread the Sunshine!

Sunshine WeekIt’s Sunshine Week, also known as the week- long, nationwide celebration of access to public government information via Sunshine Laws.

Sunshine laws are those laws that secure government transparency. These laws are fundamental to self government. They provide empowerment to our people, accountability to our government employees, and build the public trust. Utah has two key laws to provide transparency:

These laws highlight the legal balancing act between public access and accountability, and a citizen’s right to privacy and public safety. The overall intent is to ensure the public’s access to their government.

Every action of government is your business.
Every document held in government halls is your piece of paper.
Every penny spent by government is your money.
From the courthouse to the statehouse to the White House, government belongs to the governed and not the governing.
You have the right to know what the governing are up to, always.
We are self-governed.
(“It’s Your Right, It’s Your Business” by Jim Zachary, CNHI Regional Editor and Editor, The Valdosta Daily Times)

Here at the Utah State Archives, this can mean a few different things. Our Records Analyst team works with records officers to help with records management and create retention schedules. Our GRAMA Ombudsman, Rosemary Cundiff, assists records officers when they need to respond to a public records request or appeal. She also mediates appeal disputes when necessary. Our Records Processing staff works to preserve and adequately describe records to improve future access. Finally, our Research Center works with the public to provide appropriate access to historical government records in our custody.

TSunshine Week icon transparenthis week we will be posting in tandem with our Records Analyst team (RecordsKeepers.blog) to highlight the ways we work to “Let the Light In” here at the Utah State Archives.

Stay Tuned!