Opinion: Read was committed to public info

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By Shane Farley
January 6, 2017 - 4:03:55 pm

It wonít be long now before Don Read wraps up his tenure as Cowley County Sheriff after two terms.

On Monday, David Falletti will be sworn in as the countyís new sheriff, freeing Read up to enjoy some much-deserved time off.

Before that happens though, itís very much worth pointing out the work Read has done in the area of public information and transparency. When he ran for sheriff the first time eight years ago, Read promised to make the department more transparent and be thorough in providing arrest and investigation information to the public and media.

He deserves high marks for the work heís done in that area.

During his first term, Read quickly made available booking information for the jail. That roster included who was booked in, who was bonded out, what their charges were and the agency that arrested them.

That didnít just impact his department, it gave a clear peek into the work done by every law enforcement agency who operates in the county. With a few exceptions, anyone arrested passes through the Cowley County Jail, which means that roster gave the public and media the insight on pretty much any law enforcement investigation that was taking place.

For eight years, that roster was regularly updated. In Readís first term it was done by then-Undersheriff Bill Mueller, who also put in a ton of work in regard to preparing public information.

When Mueller retired, Read picked up the ball and ran with it. Daily emails to the media included the inmate roster and a very thorough activity report, with an extensive list of happenings of the last 24 hours.

Government officials quickly find out that such transparency can bring plenty of scrutiny. Maybe a law enforcement officer was part of a criminal complaint investigated by authorities, maybe deputies goofed up and broke down the wrong door.

There are plenty of times when a few details could have been left out. No one would have noticed and the sheriff couldíve saved himself some grief. Sometimes it can be easier to withdraw a bit and be less gung ho about freedom of information after a few years in office.

Read never did that.

If there was a foul up at a scene, or an officer was involved in an incident investigated by authorities or someone with the department was fired, he took the questions about it and told you what the law allowed him to say.

Even when faced with criticism in the wake of an officer-involved-shooting in 2014, Read kept churning out information everyday and taking every call. He responded to every question I asked about that shooting, maybe not always the response I wanted or expected, but a response nonetheless.

If a record was open to the public he provided it always. If he held something back he explained why.

I may not have agreed with every single decision he made regarding public information, but I can tell you I never once felt like he was ducking me.

I shouldnít forget to mention his availability either.

Calls for information in the middle of the work day? He took them every time. Calls in the middle of the night to his cell phone? Yes, those, too. Calls on the way to work? Calls while on vacation? Calls as he walked out, tired, after a lengthy meeting? Yes. Yes. and Yes.

If it took more than an hour or so to return your call, well then, you got an apology, too. Which was completely unnecessary.

If he missed returning a call to me once in eight years, I sure canít remember it.

Maybe youíre thinking ďisnít that what an elected official is supposed to do?Ē Ideally, yes, but fewer elected and government officials than you might think, understand what Read does - they donít own the information they collect, they are stewards of it.

I remember the promise he made to make his department more transparent and information easier to get. He fulfilled that and put in a lot of extra effort to do it.

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