Sunshine Week - Governor's Guest Column

Agencies instructed to review access law -
All state employees will receive required training by online video.

By: Governor John E. Baldacci
Originally Published : Saturday, March 11, 2006, Lewiston Sun-Journal

One of the many things that make Maine a great state to live in is that our democratic institutions are readily accessible. Every citizen has the ability to be actively engaged in their own governance, whether at the state or local level.

Our citizen Legislature, for example, provides an opportunity to serve the state as one of the 151 state legislators or one of the 35 state senators. Maine's progressive Clean Election Act removes a financial barrier for individuals seeking office by providing a public funding mechanism that can replace the need for raising personal or other private money to finance a campaign. As a result of the Clean Election Act, people who otherwise could not afford to run for office are now able to. This increased interest and opportunity for direct participation in governance is a good thing for representative democracy in Maine.

In addition to the ability of people to get directly involved in their government by running for office, Maine has a healthy tradition of conducting state government within the full view of public scrutiny. This tradition is embodied in Maine's Freedom of Access Act.

Recently, I have instructed my senior staff to review the act and to ensure that all executive branch employees fully understand the letter and the spirit of the act. My staff has met with cabinet members and those members of all agencies that are responsible for producing documents in response to a request. We are now in the process of preparing video online training for all employees.

In years past, requests for documents were limited to paper documents. Today, a large percent of documents responsive to a request were "born digital." The new volume of electronic documents - e-mail, databases, spreadsheets, etc. - sometimes exist only on computer screens and hard drives. This new form of public record has raised new issues relating to document management, retention and retrieval.

A comprehensive training of state workers on the Freedom of Access Act is a necessary step for maintaining good government in Maine. In order that the training be most useful and meaningful, my staff is establishing best practices for record management. Additionally, we are bringing state document retention policies into the digital age. By establishing a consistent and efficient record management and retention policy that encompasses e-mail and other electronic data, a wellspring of good will emerge. First, easy document retrieval makes for more efficient provision of services by state government. Second, rapid retrieval allows for rapid response to requests for documents by the public. Lastly, a consistent management and retention policy will facilitate the preservation of historic or archival documents as determined by the state archivist.

In formulating this comprehensive approach to record management, retention and retrieval, I have been working with a broad-based team including the attorney general, the secretary of state, the state archivist, and the director of the state Office of Information Technology. The Attorney General's Office has a prominent role in freedom of access matters, including the role of providing counsel to state agencies seeking to properly respond to a request. The secretary of state has broad interest in, and responsibility for, records management. The state archivist, a position within the Secretary of State's Office, is responsible for maintaining all documents that have historical or archival value. The director of the Office of Information Technology brings technological sophistication to the endeavor.

The record management and retention challenges presenting themselves in the digital age are not unique to Maine government or to government at all. It is imperative for all entities that deal in large volumes of data to constantly monitor and improve their practices. In concert with the attorney general, the secretary of state, the state archivist and the director of the Office of Information Technology, I am confident that we are going to make lasting and meaningful improvements to record management and retention practices and are going to provide valuable training to the dedicated individuals that provide the services of state government.