This, people, would be a major setback for access to information in Oklahoma. Public access to government employees’ birth dates and worker identification numbers would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Today’s New York Times does a marvelous job of looking into the progress — or lack thereof — in implementing President Obama’s openness initiatives…this is the kind of reporting we need MUCH more of.
Though they succeeded in getting Denver Mayor-Elect Michael Hancock to release his cell phone records, theDenver Post wasn’t so lucky in their attempts to see whom former Gov. Bill Ritter has been chatting with.
The Post’s efforts to see the personal cell phone records of Ritter, a request made in 2008, was thwarted by the Colorado Supreme Court Monday, which ruled that the Post’s claim that Ritter’s personal cell phone records did not fall under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Under the CORA, “…any person may request access to inspect and obtain a copy of any public record. … a public record is defined as any writing ‘made, maintained or kept by . . . any . . . political subdivision of the state . . . for use in the exercise of functions required or authorized by law or administrative rule.’ This provision makes clear that records that involve no expenditure of public funds are nevertheless “public records,” and are subject to inspection under the CORA. . . .”
While the Post argued that if a public official uses his personal phone for official government business, those phone records become public record, the Supreme Court ruled that the Post had to first prove that the Ritter, who opted not to seek a second term, had actually used his personal cell phone (in addition to a state-issued Blackberry) for government business, rather than simply conclude that he did. Since they failed to do so, the court said, Ritter was under no obligation to produce records proving that he did not use his personal cell phone for such purposes.
A troubling legislative proposal in FOI-Land often involves an isolated example, coupled with narrow self-interest. Here is a beauty in Ohio, courtesy of IndieOnline.com:
A movement by some state lawmakers to significantly curb the penalty for destroying public records comes in direct response to two Massillon-area men who, critics say, are trying to profit from the system.
Ed Davila, of Jackson Township, is awaiting resolution to a records lawsuit in Bucyrus, where he initially was awarded $1.4 million in damages.
Massillon resident Timothy Rhodes’ case, in which he sought $4.9 million in damages from the city of New Philadelphia, is in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Those cases — paired with a slew of similar records requests by the men throughout the state — led to language in the proposed state budget that will protect local governments from large payouts.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-8, inserted language into Senate Bill 178 — the state budget — that will cap damages, known as civil forfeitures, at $10,000. State law calls for maximum damages of $1,000 for each destroyed record.
But public-records proponents say the proposal goes too far.
“We are opposed to this measure, though we understand the concern of local governments about those who would profit from wanting a record not to exist — which is the opposite intent of seeking a public record,” Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said in an email. “However, we believe this measure would discourage cases involving legitimate records requests and could actually make it more attractive to a governmental body to destroy a record than fight disclosure of it.”
Seitz, of the Cincinnati area, said he was approached in December by a city solicitor in his district who was concerned about records-destruction cases in Bucyrus and New Philadelphia.
“There are plaintiff lawyers around the state that see this as a big bonanza for them,” Seitz said.
In crafting the language, Seitz sought “joint recommendations” from the state’s County Commissioners’ Association, Township Association, Municipal League, School Boards Association and Ohio Historical Society.
“These are taxpayer dollars,” he said. “To tell these small jurisdictions like a Massillon or a Bucyrus in these fiscally constrained times that they are potentially on the hook for six-figure or seven-figure damages for the routine destruction of records that are old makes very little sense. Why should the taxpayers be subject to that kind of a hit?”
The language also sets a four-year statute of limitations on seeking damages. It widens the class of documents that can be destroyed without approval from the Ohio Historical Society, the state archivist of public records. Attorney’s fees also would be limited to half of the forfeiture amount.
“It’s certainly not a license to destroy records,” Seitz said.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a shameless attempt to wring fees from data:
Journalists have elbowed into Cuyahoga County’s dispute over the cost of CDs loaded with deeds and mortgages, arguing that the public should have the databases at cost.
The county wants to charge more than $200,000 for CDs of property records, based on a state law that mandates a $2-per-page fee to photocopy or fax documents. Officials have spent nearly $25,000 in tax dollars on lawyers to defend that position.
Fine, two journalism organizations say. But the CDs aren’t paper; and they’re not photocopies.
“This case is not terribly complicated,” writes the Ohio Newspaper Association. “The Cuyahoga County Recorder is not making a photocopy of any record. And it cannot, therefore, charge a fee that would make a valuable database inaccessible to the public.”
The association joined the Arlington, Va.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Ohio Land Title Association in filing briefs this week in the Ohio Supreme Court.
The journalism organizations are getting involved now, they say, because of the potentialramifications. If the court decides the county can charge $2 per page on CDs, journalists would not be able to afford databases that make analysis and investigative journalism possible.
“I have not seen anything this idiotic in a really long time,” Reporters Committee attorney Lucy Dalglish said in a phone interview. “You really have to work hard to interpret a statute that badly.”