More nonsense out of Juneau this week. This time however, it had nothing to do with the Senate and House engaging in who-can-hold-their-breath-longer games. No, this time the shocking and disappointing behavior came straight from the governor’s office.
As governor, Sean Parnell has made some bold moves this term, for better or worse. Most recently, his office announced that the long-awaited release of former Governor Sarah Palin’s emails would only be made available via one hard copy in Juneau, beginning last Friday.
In 2008, numerous news organizations requested access to then Governor and also Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s emails that were sent and received as governor. The request was made under the Freedom of Information Act, which is what allows citizens and journalists to be the government watchdogs they are supposed to be. Public access to government records is an important part of democracy, and one that government officials should take seriously.
Incidents like the Pentagon Papers and even the recent Wikileaks should remind government officials that public perception of a secretive government will end in the public getting the information, one way or another. The more open a government is with the public, the less likely it is that the public (and rogue public officials) will feel the need to secure alternate, sometimes illegal, access to information. And though Palin’s emails are not likely to reveal life-changing information, the fact is that they are, by law, open to the public.
So, when a group of news organizations including the Anchorage Daily News, The Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and The Washington Post among others, made the request in 2008, they probably did not foresee the repeated delays they would encounter. The excuses for delay were varied, including the expense and the time it would take, as well as failed legal arguments.
The bottom line, as was eventually decided, was that the law says that the governor’s emails are open records, with few exceptions. And those exceptions have been accounted for, as over 2,400 emails are being held back because they are exempt and many of the emails released have been redacted with the infamous black lines.
Not only has the government taken over two years to honor the legal request delivering the emails, they’ve giftwrapped the begrudgingly given final product in bullshit. Apparently, email, which stands for electronic mail, cannot be handled electronically. And for those who couldn’t make it to Juneau, a simple copying fee of $725.97 plus shipping could land you the emails in all of their glorious 250 pounds. To make matters worse, MSNBC is reporting they’ve left out all attachments that were in the emails.
The problem with this type of release is that it’s not really making the information accessible, especially considering the information was taken from electronic form and put into an expensive and wasteful paper form.
Juneau Senator Dennis Egan fought successfully to have paper copies mailed to Anchorage and Fairbanks for review, though this is still not a great option. MSNBC, Mother Jones and ProPublica plan to scan all the emails and make them available on their websites in PDF form. A job the governor’s office should have done.
By making them available the way the Parnell administration did, they clearly showed their favor toward Palin and disdain for the public’s right to information.
The saddest part about this process is that the emails will likely lead to less scandal than the handling of the release of the emails. Consider our knowledge of Palin’s term. We’ve been embarrassed by her abuse of power, arrogance and pettiness. And based on her most recent Paul Revere comments, she’ll continue to drop golden eggs for late-night comedians into the foreseeable future. But that is already true without these emails. Couple that with redactions and thousands of pages and what are we likely to learn?
At worst, more of the same. All this troublesome government behavior for that?