Wyoming Tribune Eagle: Transparency Groups Take Wyoming Auditor to Court Over Spending Records 16_Wyoming_court

July 20, 2018 10:01 AM
By Austin Huguelet, Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE – Tired of waiting for the Wyoming auditor to produce state spending records, government transparency groups are taking her to court.
Plaintiffs American Transparency, an Illinois organization that runs openthebooks.com, and the Equality State Taxpayers Association say State Auditor Cynthia Cloud and her employees have wrongfully denied and delayed processing of their requests for roughly four years.
American Transparency CEO Adam Andrzejewski, whose group has obtained spending records for 47 states and the federal government, said the lawsuit filed Wednesday was a matter of enforcing "basic transparency law in Wyoming."
The plaintiffs are asking a Laramie County District Court judge to force Cloud to fulfill their request in a timely manner, cover their expenses and pay fines for violating public records law.
The fight over the records began in 2015, when Cloud’s office denied a records request on the grounds that compiling state payments for a year would make it impossible for the office to perform essential duties.
Cloud reversed her position this year and agreed to provide five years worth of records in April for roughly $8,000.
But in the complaint, the groups say Cloud is still stalling.
They say Cloud’s office estimated it would take 18 hours to compile each year of data, but spent 37 hours between April 30 and July 16 producing just four months and three weeks worth of records.
Cloud pushed back on the timing in a July 2 Wyoming Tribune Eagle op-ed, writing that extra time was needed to ensure confidential payments to Medicaid recipients or crime victims were redacted.
"No rape victim should have to worry that counseling sessions will be a public record," she wrote. "They are not, and they will not be."
She also said she has asked state lawmakers to pay for special software that could do the job faster, but she hasn’t gotten the money yet.
Plaintiffs point out the auditor’s office has already posted the data on its website in two- to three-month increments, though, and should have made checks before.
The auditor’s office has said in the past that data was purged once it became more than two to three months old, but plaintiffs say the auditor is still charging the public for records that have already been made public.
"(Cloud’s) failure to prevent disclosures of confidential data in previous operations should not be an opportunity to charge citizens for review that should have already been done as part of the Auditor’s normal function," the lawsuit reads.
Kevin Lewis, associate vice president of the Equality State Taxpayers Association, said Cloud even admitted in a radio interview Wednesday that her office checked the information before publishing it.
"So they’re putting us through confidentiality checks for no reason, and she’s wasting her department’s time," he said.
They also point out the auditor got money in 2016 for a $63.9 million contract with CGI, one of the world’s largest information technology firms, for hosting and maintenance of the state’s accounting system.
Deputy Auditor Sandy Urbanek said the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Wyoming often ranks low in national transparency rankings.
The state was ranked 49th and received an "F" in a 2015 review by the Center for Public Integrity. An accompanying narrative pointed out flaws in open meetings and public records laws and noted the unusual lack of an independent ethics agency.
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