Public Access Ombudsman position gets funded 5 years after creation

Augusta – The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations that advocate for open government, is praising the funding for an office of Public Access Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office that was included in the supplemental budget Governor Paul LePage signed into law this week.

"We're extremely gratified that the administration and the legislature recognized the importance of this initiative and found a way to fund the ombudsman position, five years after it was created in law," said Suzanne Goucher, president of MFOIC.

The ombudsman position was first proposed by MFOIC during a study group established by the legislature in 2004 that led to the creation of the state’s Right to Know Advisory Committee. Funding for the position has been recommended every year since the Advisory Committee became a permanent group providing advice to the legislature and state government on open meetings and public record issues.

“We want to thank Governor LePage for including the funding in his supplemental budget and the Appropriations Committee for supporting his request in tight budget times,” said Mal Leary, Vice President of MFOIC and a member of the Advisory Committee. “When this office is underway later this year, Mainers will have someone to call when they are having difficulty getting access to public records.”

Leary said the MFOIC gets calls every week from people who believe they have not been given access to government records that they have a right to review. He said having an ombudsman for Mainers to ask for help is a major step to improving the access of Mainers to their governments.

The new office is a half time position within the office of the Attorney General and is funded beginning July 1, 2012. In addition to assisting the general public with issues involving access to public records, the ombudsman will also provide a resource for public agencies and officials on right-to-know-issues.