- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Twenty-year-old Courtney Peterson didn’t know what to expect when she walked into the Torrington Police Department on a recent Thursday.

Peterson, a recent Eastern Wyoming College graduate, is not a member of the media and doesn’t have much experience asking for public information from government officials.

So when she asked for the department’s list of recent arrests - documents defined as public records by state law - she didn’t think there would be a problem.

Instead, she was stonewalled by government officials who she said were suspicious and even hostile to her request.

“The lady I talked to wanted to know why I wanted the information, and she said, ‘I’m not going to give it to you,’” Peterson said. “I wasn’t expecting her to be that rude. I was just kind of shocked.”

Peterson was one of more than a dozen volunteers who participated in a recent public records audit led by the Wyoming Press Association and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

The spot check of many of the cities, towns, counties and school districts across the state tested whether government officials would provide access to public records that state law says should be open to anyone.

Most localities were happy to provide the documents. But the audit revealed repeated instances, such as the one Peterson encountered, when government officials made it difficult or flat out refused to release the records.

Newspapers across the state asked volunteers or members of their newsrooms to ask for a set of documents from city, town and county offices, law enforcement groups and school districts.

Volunteers were instructed to ask to inspect the records and report whether the government officials complied with their request.

Cities, towns and counties overwhelmingly agreed with requests to release their budgets and bills - also called warrants - that have been paid by the locality.

Volunteers reported that the information was released in almost all cases.

And some even said that local clerks, secretaries or other officials were especially helpful or went out of their way to provide the documents.

Genesis Martinez, a lifestyles reporter at the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner, went to the Rock Springs City Hall at the beginning of April to seek the city’s budget and warrants.

Martinez said the documents were delivered without hesitation.

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