A Heartwarming Tale of FOI Activism, Nine Years in the Making

This story infuriates me on one level, and thrills me on another level. The doggedness and unwillingness to give in is truly inspiring. The government’s stonewalling and delay tactics….argh!

Glen Milner wanted to know the dangers posed by the Navy’s Indian Island munitions facility near Port Townsend, Washington. So in 2003, he filed a Freedom of Information request.

Milner, who lives about 50 miles south of the ordnance depot, finally received documents outlining those risks — nine years later. To get there, the citizen activist needed the help of the U.S. Supreme Court to obtain information about the hazards of living near the arsenal…

Milner wasn’t deterred when the Navy denied his request and rejected his appeals. He notifiedDavid Mann, his Seattle-based attorney, that the Navy was denying his requests for ordnance blast-zone maps by using an exemption related to personnel rules.

There are nine exemptions to FOIA, including provisions to protect trade secrets, information related to supervision of financial institutions, and matters of national defense.

“My response was, ’I’ll take that case,’” Mann said. Mann worked pro bono and is now negotiating a fee settlement with the Navy.

After two court decisions upheld the Navy’s argument, Milner eventually wound up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier court rulings had interpreted Exemption 2, the one cited by the Navy, as allowing the department to withhold documents beyond matters simply relating to hiring or firing or performance reviews. The Navy argued that the restrictions could also include safety-review documents because their disclosure could threaten the security and safety of personnel…

Oh, but that’s just the beginning of this saga! Read the whole tale here.


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