AP NEWS

Arizona government lacks transparency, report finds

December 1, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2019, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey looks on during a speech after being sworn in for his second term during his inauguration ceremony at the state Capitol in Phoenix. Ducey's administration has developed a pattern of delaying or withholding public records requests. The Arizona Republic found that the Republican governor's administration takes months or even years to release documents requested under the state's public records law, if they exist at all. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2019, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey looks on during a speech after being sworn in for his second term during his inauguration ceremony at the state Capitol in Phoenix. Ducey's administration has developed a pattern of delaying or withholding public records requests. The Arizona Republic found that the Republican governor's administration takes months or even years to release documents requested under the state's public records law, if they exist at all. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The administration of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has developed a pattern of delaying or withholding public records requests, according to a newspaper review.

The Arizona Republic found that the Republican governor’s administration takes months or even years to release documents requested under the state’s public records law— if they exist at all.

Dan Barr, an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues, said the government should be communicating policy and decisions in writing and that not doing so “strains credulity.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said the governor’s office follows the law and that not all government actions require documentation.

“Some things we work on happen over email,” he said. “Sometimes, it involves getting together in a room and working something out in person.”

The Arizona Republic says that its writers have waited months for requests for comprehensive records such as government contracts or salary information for staff, which are public records.

It’s often been rebuffed when requesting documentation that might show the administration came to a certain policy decision.

One example was the Department of Transportation announcement last year that it would require Arizona drivers to pay a $32 car registration fee. State lawmakers had originally passed an increase that was projected to be about $18 in order to fully fund state highway patrol. The Arizona Republic asked for documentation showing how state government employees came to the new, much bigger amount, and only received a one-page summary of the decision.

In another example, the Republic sought emails, memos and notes all relating to how the governor’s change of heart on teacher salaries unraveled after teachers began protesting in March 2018. Ducey had proposed a 1% raise plan and said teachers didn’t understand how much he had boosted education funding. But in just a few days, Ducey announced a plan to boost teacher pay by 20% by 2020.

The governor’s office didn’t release any memos or emails that might have shown how the administration came to that decision. Instead, it released two documents 10 months after the Republic requested them.

Danee Garone, who is with the Arizona ombudsman’s office, said “an agency withholding public records, such as those that show how an administration arrived at a key policy change, absolutely could be a violation of the (state’s) public records law.”