A transparency task force created by Gov. Mark Gordon and Auditor Kristi Racines will focus on the “gray” areas of Wyoming’s public documents laws, Racines said.
Racines, speaking with a reporter from Cowboy State Daily, said Wyoming’s Public Documents Law has many vague areas that must be addressed individually.
“We keep using this elephant example,” she said “Transparency is an elephant and we’re not going to eat it all in one day There’s not just one big red button we’re going to push.”
Both Gordon and Racines made government transparency an issue during their election campaigns in 2018, pledging the creation of a financial transparency task force to look at how best to make public information on government finances available and accessible.
The task force held its first meeting in January and a second one is planned for March, Racines said.
The task force’s work is complicated by the fact many transactions handled by the state are confidential, such as Medicaid payments, Racines said, and even more are not specifically addressed by state law.
“As far as state expenditures, there still very vague areas in the law,” she said. “You might (look at) one class of expenditures, you ask three different attorneys, you get three different answers. Because it’s not laid out specifically in our statutes.”
In addition to the task force, Racines was a supporter of recently approved legislation setting a 30-day deadline for the production of public documents in response to a request.
Racines said she was particularly enthusiastic about a piece of the legislation creating an “ombudsman” to mitigate disputes over public documents.
“I am really excited about the ombudsman,” she said. “Before (a person requesting documents) have to go to court, you can go to the ombudsman and we can work this out.”
Some have suggested the position be filled by an attorney and Racines said she could understand why that might be helpful.
“As I’m learning about all the intricacies and all the gray areas and whether things are public or not, I can see where being a lawyer might be valuable,” she said. “We have an absolute responsibility to get information out that’s public. But we also are custodians of a huge amount of people’s private information … and so balancing those two, it’s a big deal.”
Want to know more about transparency in Wyoming. Watch our wide reaching conversation with Wyoming State Auditor Racines here.