Friday, April 04, 2008

FOIA Friday

FOIA - the Freedom of Information Act - applies to the federal government, but many states have corresponding public records laws under which citizens can gather information about the activities of their governments - and then hold them accountable.

Today starts a new feature where each Friday I will blog about public records, how to obtain them or people struggling to gain access to information.

We'll start with this post on Toledo Talk from GraphicsGuy, who wants to know exactly what evidence the City of Toledo has to indicate that complying with the new convenience store licensing law is not very expensive. (see next post for more details on this obnoxious law and the lawsuit filed yesterday)

Here's a tip, GraphicsGuy, under Ohio's revised public records law ORC 149.43, you might want to make the request in writing and hand-deliver it to the 22nd floor. Why? Because if the city doesn't respond, that's the only way you'll be entitled to statutory damages should you be forced to file mandamus action against them:

"If a requestor transmits a written request by hand delivery or certified mail to inspect or receive copies of any public record in a manner that fairly describes the public record or class of public records to the public office or person responsible for the requested public records, except as otherwise provided in this section, the requestor shall be entitled to recover the amount of statutory damages set forth in this division if a court determines that the public office or the person responsible for public records failed to comply with an obligation in accordance with division (B) of this section.

The amount of statutory damages shall be fixed at one hundred dollars for each business day during which the public office or person responsible for the requested public records failed to comply with an obligation in accordance with division (B) of this section, beginning with the day on which the requester files a mandamus action to recover statutory damages, up to a maximum of one thousand dollars. The award of statutory damages shall not be construed as a penalty, but as compensation for injury arising from lost use of the requested information. The existence of this injury shall be conclusively presumed. The award of statutory damages shall be in addition to all other remedies authorized by this section."

You can also send your request via certified mail to qualify for the damages. Personally, I think the requirement for delivery of the request is meant to further restrict the public's easy access. In today's world of email and 'receipts' for email messages, there's no reason the public should be required to go to the extra effort of hand-delivering a request - or the extra cost of sending a request via certified mail. But that's another post for a later date.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be discussing my personal battle to obtain information from the city with Meet The New Press, a radio show on WEMJ 1490 in Laconia, NH. This show is about bloggers and hosted my one of my fellow Samsphere bloggers, GraniteGrok.

Following the budget hearing in my district, we were told we could email additional questions if we had any, which I did. The reaction from the city was that my questions as a citizen would go unanswered because of my employment as an 'entertainer,' despite the fact that I sent them as a citizen and via my personal email. However, I do know that another citizen at this meeting did email the same person with several questions - and received a response.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure you can't discriminate against your citizens because of where they work. If you'd like more details, you can listen live tomorrow beginning at 9 a.m.


GraphicGuy said...

We'll see how well the city responds to 3 Public Records requests that I delivered to Brian Schwartz on Monday morning.

The latest word from Mr. Schwartz is that I am to call Thursday to check the status.

Will keep you updated.

GraphicGuy said...

Update Thursday 10 April

Received information on 1 of my 3 requests. Per Mr. Schwartz one of them "might take awhile to compile", but the other "shouldn't take as long."

We'll see.

Maggie Thurber said...

GraphicGuy - actually, that's not bad in terms of response time...well, for the city...

I finally got a response to my email in early March. Turns out, the person who should answer my questions is on vacation and they'll have him respond when he gets back.

At least I got an acknowledgement of my request...

Keep us posted - and thanks for taking an active role in holding your government accountable.

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