Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Opinion

October 17, 2006

Boost budget of state access counselor

Indiana officials are always looking to trim costs and save taxpayer money. But despite a need to be careful with funds, the state’s public access counselor should not be given short shrift.

Stephen Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, noted that Gov. Mitch Daniels and his staff have reacted favorably to a request to boost the access counselor’s budget.

The budget has been flat since the Legislature made the office a permanent state agency in 1999. Key said the original plan was to give the counselor a second attorney, but Karen Davis now has an administrative assistant because she couldn’t compete with other agencies to attract a quality attorney.

With a budget increase, Davis will be able to afford both the assistant and a second attorney.

The office’s annual report notes that nearly half of the inquiries and complaints came from the public. Between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006, a total of 1,880 inquiries and complaints were received, including 222 from the media, 712 from the government and 946 from the public.

This suggests the public is receiving the most benefit from the agency, which is the proper focus. The counselor also made 32 educational presentations, although another staffer should provide time for the official to travel to outside Indianapolis more frequently and visit other parts of the state.

Many different individuals and governmental entities were served, however. For instance, a complaint from a staffer at the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic was supported by the counselor, who said the Noble County prosecutor’s office was charging too much for copying records. The charge of $1,595 was deemed excessive.

Also, a complaint from a Phoenix resident was backed by the access counselor, who said the Elkhart County prosecutor is required to disclose any non-exempt records he maintains.

It may be cliché, but the public’s business is public business. It is not too much to ask for state government to maintain an office with a $206,000 annual budget dedicated to ensuring this.

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