Open records: Hold the phone?
The digital age has produced a growing conundrum nationwide, Pennsylvania included, involving the copying of public records. Government transparency, however, demands there be no conundrum at all.
Many government agencies charge the public to make copies. As long as those charges are limited to covering costs, that’s fine. But we live in the age of picture-taking cellphones and hand-held scanners. Which has prompted some government offices to either bar their use — forcing the public to pay for paper copies — or charge the same fee.
The bureaucratic rationale is that government offices still have to pay for those copier machines, ostensibly purchased for citizens to copy public records. As if a modern government office ever existed without a copier machine.
Especially curious is the attitude of some government officials, such as Jim Uziel, deputy recorder in the Allegheny County Real Estate Office: “They’re public documents,” he concedes. But “they’re basically the property of this office. … They’re kind of like our product.”
Actually, government is the custodian of public documents, not their owner. And if such documents are government’s “product,” doesn’t it behoove government to serve its customers — taxpayers already tapped to pay for these government operations — in the most efficacious manner?
Of course it does. But, then again, we’re talking about government.