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Governor orders prompt release of cabinet records

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    NMU         ALABAMA         Freedom of Information    

Governor orders prompt release of cabinet records

  • Alabama’s governor said public records of his cabinet will now be available without mandatory legal and press office review, reversing the policy of his predecessor.

March 6, 2003 — Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in early February ordered members of his cabinet to release public records promptly, without prior approval from legal advisors.

“Every public document or expenditure that is not directly related to economic development [prospects] is to be made available at the public’s request . . . and quickly,” said Riley’s deputy press secretary Pepper Bryars. Documents pertaining to prospective economic developments are withheld until a final decision has been reached, he said.

Previous policy under Riley’s predecessor, Gov. Don Siegelman, required that requests for public records first be approved by legal advisors and the press office. Riley’s administration “sees no reason for that” and has “relinquished all authority” over approving the documents prior to public release, Bryars said.

“Alabama has a clearcut open records law saying that public documents should be available for inspection by the public,” Bryars said. This law, however, has been “creatively ignored by previous administrations and various state agencies.”

Bryars noted that in previous instances, journalists were given permission to view certain documents but were not allowed to make copies.

The Alabama public records law states that, “every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute.”

“If it is a public document, it should be released. We are trying to change the inertia of the institutional reluctance to provide information to the public,” Bryars said.

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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