(The Valley Reporter shares the Caledonian Record’s editorial of October 18, 2019, as well as excerpts of the Stowe Reporter and News and Citizen’s editorial of October 17, 2019.)

Caledonian Record - Editorial: Darth Donovan

Last week Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan issued a directive to charge the public for taking cellphone photos of public records.

“Any requester who elects to inspect public records shall not make electronic copies or photocopies of the inspected records unless the requester is willing to pay applicable charges,” Donovan writes in his new directive intended to apply to state agencies. “This prohibition includes, but is not limited to, the use of scanning devices, thumb drives, cameras, or cellphones during inspection.”

It’s Donovan’s petty response to a Supreme Court decision last month that ruled government agencies cannot charge the public inspecting public records at the custodian’s site.

Donovan is a well-known opponent of the public’s right to know and has been thumped by the court for violating open record law. His most recent attack on transparency and accountability drew quick and bipartisan rebuke.

“Vermonters shouldn’t have to pay for access to their government’s public records,” Secretary of State Jim Condos wrote. “I was disappointed to hear that the Vermont Attorney General’s office has adopted a policy of charging members of the public to take photographs, with their own devices, of the public records they are inspecting. I believe that the law is crystal clear; this interpretation is not only wrong, it reduces transparency, and places undue burdens on Vermonters.”

Republican Governor Phil Scott agreed, saying the Supreme Court settled the issue – “We cannot charge for inspections.”

We hope Donovan smartens up before he incurs more financial penalties for Vermont taxpayers when he gets sued, and loses … again.

Stowe Reporter/News and Citizen

The attorney general’s policy is likely to ripple through state government, since that office provides legal advice to the entire state government. And that state government has hardly been friendly about public records requests. Last year, the Vermont secretary of state’s office said most agencies have a “knee-jerk reaction” to deny access to public records, so requesters must either go away or go through an appeal.