A survey has found that many county agencies around Indiana failed to comply with state laws requiring the disclosure of public records through electronic requests.
The survey commissioned by the Indiana Coalition for Open Government sought records from 90 public agencies in 30 counties, but said only 15 provided electronic copies of the documents and 30 agencies never responded to the initial email requests or follow-up telephone calls.
The survey was done by Indiana University graduate journalism students who emailed requests to commissioners' offices and the sheriff's and health departments in the randomly selected counties.
Open government coalition President Gerry Lanosga told The Herald Times of Bloomington that the survey results shouldn't discourage residents from seeking records from government officials.
"Sadly, I always expect that there will be problems with public access," said Lanosga, an assistant professor at the IU Media School. "I wish I didn't have to say that."
Samim Arif, one of the students who conducted the survey, said one county sheriff insisted he would never release records in electronic form, even after Arif explained the law requires public offices to "make reasonable efforts" to provide electronic copies.
Arif said he thought more people should be aware of the public records law.
"The people of Indiana don't complain about it or ask about it," he said, "and that's why these offices are negligent."
The state public records law requires government officials to treat an email request for documents the same has a written request submitted in person.
"For some officials, not accommodating a request electronically is kind of a subtle way to discourage people from making those requests," said Steve Key, an open government coalition board member and executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.