Arizona Republic editorial
The battle for public-records access between Glendale and the Goldwater Institute is nearing three years. The city continues to dig in its heels.
It's not supposed to be this way. Public records should be public.
Those footing the bill for the city's investments, in this case the continued financing of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, have a right to a clear understanding of why and how financial decisions are being made.
Glendale and the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative watchdog group, have battled since 2009 over access to public records related to the potential sale of the Coyotes, which plays at city-owned Jobing.com Arena.
Access to public records, something that is required by state law, has become increasingly difficult. The problem occasionally is simply because public officials are ignorant of the law. In other instances, it is because public officials deliberately stonewall to keep information from the public.
That appears to be the case in Glendale, according to an independent judge's recent findings.
"There is evidence in the record submitted to me ... which indicate that the city's conduct in avoiding reasonable requests for deposition dates, and production of documents subject to the public-records laws and rules of discovery has been intentional," retired Judge Robert Myers said in his December report.
His recommendation that Glendale turn over the public records that Goldwater alleges may have been withheld as "politically sensitive" is one the city should follow if it cares about transparency and open government.
Myers took lawyers for both parties to task, writing, "I start with the legal admonition learned by every first-year law student that 'Justice delayed is justice denied.' This case must be concluded in a reasonable amount of time and so far, it does not appear that much has been accomplished when left to the lawyers' own efforts."
Glendale was placed in an unenviable position when the Coyotes owner filed for bankruptcy and threw its arena lease into disarray. The city may have been caught off guard, but that is no excuse for keeping taxpayers in the dark about the issue.
It is time resolve this issue as a matter of policy and principle. This tussle with Goldwater should prompt the city to act more forthrightly with future public-records requests.
Glendale is not alone among public entities with bad habits when it comes to public records. Too often in too many places the only option when requests for information are denied is to file a lawsuit. Court hearings can be expensive and time-consuming, which some public officials may rely on to discourage challenges to their obstinate behavior.
Acting in the best interests of residents and taxpayers requires public entities to be transparent. Public records are the windows to government dealings. Open the curtains and let the sunshine in.