Opening Indiana’s Government: 2016 Governor’s Candidate Survey

In keeping with a tradition started in 2004, the Indiana Coalition for Open Government asked the three gubernatorial candidates this year to share their visions of government transparency via a brief survey about public access issues. The candidates, Libertarian Rex Bell, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Eric Holcomb, were provided with the survey on September 19 and given until October 10 to respond.

Thus far, only Bell and Gregg have answered the survey’s 13 questions. ICOG is pleased to share their answers here, providing one more measure the public can use to judge the candidates this year. Given that an informed electorate is a key part of democratic governance, we believe a candidate’s views on open government issues provide a critical lens for evaluating fitness for elective office.

ICOG thanks the Bell and Gregg campaigns for their cooperation and will update this page if the Holcomb campaign submits its responses.

Now, here is the survey:

Please name at least one specific step you would take to improve public access to information about the activities of Indiana government agencies and officials.

Bell: I would work to increase fines and make sure that public employees are held personally responsible for withholding requested information.

Gregg: We have an Open Government Initiative that encourages transparency, accountability and collaboration. In terms of specifics, our plan will require government agencies to produce documents following a public records requests within 10 business days.

Indiana has a new law governing the release of video obtained by police body cameras. Do you think the law did enough to make such video publicly available? What changes, if any, would you suggest?

Bell: Police departments shouldn’t be allowed to opt out of body camera requirements, and those original and unedited videos should always be available to the accused parties.

Gregg: Body cameras are a step in the right direction as this sort of accountability reaffirms the hard work of our law enforcement officers. There are many issues surrounding body cameras, from the cost of obtaining equipment necessary to blur the faces of minors and bystanders who appear in the videos prior to public release to the exactly who and how many times impacted parties and the public can access the footage. We have to be cognizant of the issues facing police departments, but also keep in mind the importance of doing what’s best for the community. That is why I have called for an independent, non-partisan panel to these issues and make recommendations.

What responsibility should public agencies have with regard to proactive transparency, such as posting information online ahead of meetings, archiving audio/video online, and providing access to public data? Should there be more requirements for public agencies to post specific records and data on their websites?

Bell: All responsibility lies with the agencies. With the technology that is available to us today, every public agency should display full transparency when dealing with public money or policy.

Gregg: Our plan aims at greater engagement with the public in order to provide for greater accountability. We want to establish an Open Data Portal for state and local government, to provide real time budget information, GIS Maps, contracts, reports and various data sets from a range of state, local and federal sources. Our plan will require state agencies to produce information requests within 10 days and place as much information in the portal as proactively as possible.

Email communications of public officials continue to be a source of conflict when it comes to public access. What is your position?

Bell: If it concerns public policy, a communication should have public access. History has taught us that we should always err to the side of transparency.

Gregg: We are committed to encouraging an environment of transparency, accountability and collaboration and will work toward the appropriate balance between the privacy of constituent information and public access.

Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act has a growing list of exceptions to disclosure, including many that are discretionary for public agencies. Categories such as deliberative materials offer agencies wide latitude to withhold public records. Do you think there is a need for reconsideration or redefinition of any exceptions?

Bell: Yes, public agencies have too much latitude in deciding what information must be released. The threshold needs to be higher and more defined before allowing agencies to make that choice.

Gregg: Yes, there are areas we want to reconsider and redefine under a Gregg/Hale administration. We want to create a public transparency commission to review existing public access laws and make recommendations. Along with the Public Access Counselor’s office, the commission will work to make the best determinations regarding access.

The use of aerial drones to take photographs and video has attracted considerable attention nationwide because of their potential as information gathering tools but also because of concerns about safety and invasions of privacy. In your opinion, how should the state regulate the use of drones?

Bell: Drones are simply another way of holding a camera and taking a picture. The same laws that protect individual privacy from any form of photography should also apply to drones. The same should apply if a drone is legitimately endangering someone.

Gregg: There must be some regulation and accountability in regards to drones. I want to be the sort of servant leader who brings a variety of opinions to the table in hopes of finding reasonable solutions.

Earlier this year Gov. Pence vetoed a bill that would have introduced a search fee for records requests that take more than two hours to fulfill. Pence said: “The cost of public records should never be a barrier to the public’s right to know.” Do you agree with his position on search fees?

Bell: Yes.

Gregg: Yes. We, however, must be aware of the time and resources it takes to conduct searches.

When there is a choice between paper records or electronic records, should the choice be controlled by the public agency or the citizen requesting them?

Bell: If both are available, the choice should always be controlled by the citizen.

Gregg: Citizens should have the right to make the choice for now, but, with advances in technology we must be prepared for the likelihood of a paperless future.

What is your position on whether private university police departments should be subject to the Indiana Access to Public Records Act?

Bell: If private police are enforcing public laws, they should be subject to the same public access laws.

Gregg: These departments should be held to the same standards as other law enforcement agencies.

Currently Indiana law contains no appeal provision when a public agency denies access to records. A citizen wishing to challenge a denial must go to court to do so. Should that be changed, and if so, what would you suggest?

Bell: There should be an automatic appeal, preferably to the Governor. And again, fines should be levied personally against the employee that denied access if their decision is overturned.

Gregg: Yes. Our plan calls for the creation of a Public Transparency Commission, aimed at reviewing public access laws and making recommendations to improve them. One of the additional tasks of the Public Transparency Commission is the creation of a formal appeals process that citizens can turn to when information is not released.

A common complaint about Indiana access laws is the lack of strong enforcement. How would you suggest improving compliance?

Bell: Once again, with an easier appeal system and by making public employees personally responsible for the fines associated with denial.

Gregg: We want to strengthen the powers of the Public Access Counselor. As Governor, I will work to give the office power to compel agencies to release information, as existing law only allows the Public Access Counselor to issue non-binding advisory opinions.

Would you strengthen the role of the state’s Public Access Counselor through a budget increase, increase in authority or any other means?

Bell: I believe giving citizens more availability to records and a stronger recourse if they are denied access would be a more effective way of increasing compliance than by simply throwing more money at the problem.

Gregg: We would increase the authority of the role.

State agency officials are required to take ethics training. Would you support similar mandatory training in open government regulations?

Bell: By the time a person reaches adulthood and has a job, the chance to teach them ethics has passed. If a person working for the government is unethical, they need to be fired.

Gregg: With respect to the usage of resources involved in such training, I think this would raise awareness about the importance of open government.