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By Laura Lundquist, Missoula Current

Groups sue Governor’s Office, state over public records delay

Two organizations are suing the state of Montana for tardy responses to public records requests. But it’s not the first time the Gianforte administration has dragged its heels on providing information.

On Tuesday, in Lewis and Clark County District Court, the Montana Environmental Information Center and Earthworks filed a complaint saying the Governor’s Office and the Department of Administration have taken too long to respond to a Nov. 29 request for public records.

Montana’s public records laws give citizens access to all state documents and communications involving public agencies, except sections that contain information related to citizens’ personal privacy. This helps people keep a closer watch on agency actions.

The problem is the law only requires that state agencies provide the requested information “in a timely manner.” “Timely” is not defined. Recently, several requests indicate the Gianforte administration’s definition appears to be several months instead of weeks as with the previous administration.

Three and a half months have gone by since the two organizations submitted their request. The Missoula Current’s requests for comment from the Governor’s Office weren’t returned by press time.

“We have a fundamental, constitutional right to examine the records of state government in Montana, including any communications that the Governor’s office may have had with Hecla Mining,” said Anne Hedges, MEIC director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, in a release. “As the old saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant for mold in government. The public should know whether the governor dropped the Bad Actor matter at the request of an Idaho-based mining company and left Montana taxpayers and sovereign tribes holding the bag.”

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