FOREWORD

Montana's populist roots promoted early adoption of statutory "open records" mandates. Montana's first open records law was passed six years after statehood in 1895 and guaranteed:

Every citizen has a right to inspect and to take a copy of any public writings of this state … (and) (e)very public officer having the custody of a public writing … is bound to give (citizens) on demand a certified copy of it.

Mont. Code Ann. § 2-6-102. (emphasis added).

It was not until 1963, however, that the legislature statutorily required open governmental meetings. The legislative purpose of the 1963 law tracks the populist philosophy which serves as its underpinning:

It is the intent of this part that actions and deliberations of all public agencies (in Montana) shall be conducted openly. The people of the state do not wish to abdicate their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. Towards these ends, the provisions of the part shall be liberally construed.

Mont. Code Ann. § 2-3-201.

The "part" referred to above requires that all meetings of governmental bodies "supported in whole or part by public funds or expending public funds" must be open to the public. This statutory provision is among the broadest in the nation with respect to the deliberative bodies it touches.

Finally, when the 19th century Montana Constitution was re-written in 1972, this statutory philosophy was raised to constitutional levels. The 1972 Constitution, Article II, § 9 reads:

No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.

In response to this provision, the Montana Legislature commissioned a study to determine which, if any, statutes needed to be amended in order to comply with this new constitutional mandate. In 1975 and again in 1977 the legislature passed several amendments to the open meetings and open records laws to mold a statutory framework that implemented the new constitutional provision. These statutory and constitutional constraints today provide Montana citizens strong statutory and constitutional tools with which to compel open government.

As might be expected, however, these constitutional and legislative efforts have not lessened the tendency of governmental bodies toward secrecy. Montana officials, not unlike officials in other states, believe the public's business can most efficiently be carried on in secret. Thanks to a vigilant press and active public interest groups willing to litigate, Montana government has not been covert with impunity.