OpenCDA

February 22, 2015

“… you are commanded to provide to the Office of Attorney General…”

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 8:56 am

slippery slopeOpenCdA’s post on February 20, 2015, entitled Now Just a Minute was based on the proposal attributed to Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon but considered by other county elected officials including Commissioners, the Prosecutor, and the Sheriff.   As reported in Friday’s Coeur d’Alene Press, Brannon suggested hiring a county public information officer to handle both public records requests and the dissemination of public information.

OpenCdA thinks this is a bad idea.   The suggestion is a convenient way to add another filter, a gatekeeper, between public records and citizens’ access to them.  It is appalling that our elected public officials do not distinguish between public records which speak for themselves and public information which uses a spokesflack to select and deliver the County’s fluff du jour in its most favorable light.

We find this suggestion particularly galling because it is appears to be directed at shutting down legitimate inquiries primarily from one person:  Kootenai County government watchdog Frank Davis.

That elected officials in Kootenai County believe a new position for one of their hand-picked cronies needs to be created just to field legitimate inquiries from one or even a few people suggests something else to us:  The community watchdogs like Frank Davis are on the right track, and they are making some past and present elected officials (and those locally who control them)  very nervous about what the Idaho Attorney General may uncover. 

Our post last Friday referred to a subpoena duces tecum issued by the Idaho Attorney General in November 2014.   It was issued pursuant to the authority the Idaho Legislature granted to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office on July 1, 2014, to investigate violations of state law by county officers who hold elective office.   It was issued to the County Clerk in his capacity as the custodian of the records sought.  Here is a link to the two-page subpoena.

The subpoena’s first six bullet points identify the records the County is commanded to produce.   There are various statutes that require these records be kept and reported.  The purpose of the statutory record keeping, reporting, and auditing  requirements is to ensure public money is not being used unlawfully by county officials and their employees who have access to the money.  Remember Sandra Martinson?

And that brings us back full circle to the suggestion for a Kootenai County Spokesflack to field both public records requests and churn out the county’s propaganda.

Public records requests are specific and for records residing in one or more county offices.  The custodian of records in that office must receive, interpret, process, and deliver the unaltered records as required by the Idaho Public Records Law.  Failure to comply with that law has consequences (at least theoretically).

In contrast there is no requirement for the form, content, and accuracy of public information pumped out voluntarily by the county.  We think trying to combine the positions of neutral records custodian and professional obfuscator in one is simply asking too much of one person.  There may well be an irresistible temptation or even a direct order to tailor the response to a public records request so it more closely resembles the public information message the official desires to project.

If our area had objective, professional news media which could and would reliably gather facts, verify them, and present them timely, accurately, and completely, we suspect the public records requests from public watchdogs like Frank Davis would decline.   Unfortunately, our local and regional news media behave more like purveyors of public relations hyperbole or agents of influence than the public interest watchdogs they would like us to believe they are.

We conclude with one final observation:  OpenCdA strongly suspects that there is going to be increased pressure on the Idaho Attorney General and the Legislature to effectively gut the Idaho Public Records Law just as there was in 2009 when the aforementioned AG and Legislature agreed to eviscerate the Idaho Open Meeting Law.  We hope that the Attorney General will be buoyed by the enactment of Idaho Code § 31-2002 and aggressively pursue and prosecute corrupt public officials.   In the meantime, we encourage diligent, carefully prepared application of the Idaho Public Records Law by citizen watchdogs like Frank Davis.

6 Comments

  1. I think we are going down this road whether we like it or not. Governor Otter appointed a public record ombudswoman last year”

    That is some subpoena — where is the information? The AG’s office should have it all by now. Then if any of this becomes some sort of personnel issue under investigation, we may never see it. Unbelievable … but then again, it is believable that our local skews-papers are reporting nothing of value.

    Comment by Stebbijo — February 22, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

  2. Stebbijo,

    I think the difference between what the Gov. and Kootenai County have proposed is that the Gov’s ombudsman’s primary duty will be to intake and coordinate timely responses to IPRL requests to agencies subordinate to the Gov. Since the Gov’s ombudsman would be an attorney, I’d hope she would be able to keep the responses on point and timely. She may also be able to mediate disputes without going to court.

    What Kootenai County seems to be proposing is a combination of IPRL coordinator and public information officer, a job of far broader scope than the Gov’s. My suspicion of what the County proposes is that the County’s PIO may venture too far into the realm of the prohibited, “Why do you want this information?” to determine the requestor’s motivation rather than merely helping more precisely define the material requested.

    Comment by Bill — February 22, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

  3. I seems that what I had heard, that OpenCda is the only source of real news in the area, is correct. I am looking forward to learning what information the AG’s office received as a result of this subpoena…and then seeing what it does with the information. Thank you for posting this important information.

    Comment by Tributary — February 23, 2015 @ 7:25 am

  4. Tributary,

    Thank you for registering and commenting. Your first comment did not appear instantly, because a new registrant’s first comment is always held for moderation. Subsequent comments should appear almost as soon as you click the Submit Comment button.

    Because OpenCdA is a blog and not a news medium, I seriously doubt the AG’s office will make any effort to update us. That’s why it was and is important for the real news media to do their collective jobs. The Coeur d’Alene Press does not have anyone in Boise to stay on top of it, and even if it did, we doubt the Press has any reporter or editor with either the will or the comprehension to grasp the importance of the information in the AG’s hands and then write about it in a systematic way. As for The Spokesman-Review, well, we saw how it did such a bang-up job covering its owner’s involvement in the River Park Square scandal, so we won’t hold our breath for it to expose any deficiencies in the official conduct of its across-the-stateline cronies in Kootenai County.

    Comment by Bill — February 23, 2015 @ 7:47 am

  5. I remember when the Sheryl Carroll story started to surface not long after the Martinson case. The Martinson case was subdued by reports that she needed the embezzled money for illness and the Carroll case was funny, because the Press hinted at a big story and the story was disclosed secretly to the Press thru channels within the city who could not comment about the case because it was “under investigation.”

    Now, they just do not report anything at all, unless it is about those nuisance folks who request public records.

    It will take time to go through 3 years of records, so I guess we just need to be patient, it is all we can do. If there are active accounts today that are not county approved and if there are accounts that have not been audited, I expect that will surface and that will definitely take time. I also suspect this investigation will expose any records that may not exist but should. Appalled has already exposed two accounts with documents that are of concern on this blog that have not been subject to audit. So, we wait …and to think this was a request back in November of last year and we are now just reading about it, HERE … no where else.

    Comment by Stebbijo — February 23, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

  6. The notion that a single county employee COULD respond to ALL of the requests for every County department and office(within required timeframes) is a pipe-dream. And I’m talking Cheech and Chong pipe on this one. I doubt the newby commissioners even have a clue how many requests are made on a daily basis to which this new hire would need to respond. And besides they don’t have the money for a new hire; they have already given away a three percent tax hike destined for approval in the next budget cycle to the Sheriffs Office.

    Sounds to me more of a knee jerk reaction taylored to quash one especially inquisitive man on a mission than it has to do with an open, (already legally defined) accessible government But then as I recall, the two new Commissioners ran on a platform that never mentioned transparency or efficiency. I can only hope the powers and limitations for our newby County Commissioners sinks in fast. Unfortunately, it usually takes a lawsuit or two for some to adapt to a more reserved, articulated, and defensible approach to solving public policy issues.

    If the majority of the Board continues in the direction of restricting access to public records and information–due specifically to Frank Davis, we may very well be witness to the new board’s first lawsuit; cash to follow a settlement agreement that includes the, “no harm, no foul” clause and the perfunctory, “we promise to try not to do that again”.

    Comment by Old Dog — February 24, 2015 @ 11:41 am

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