Well, the Commissioners of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho’s urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC) and its Executive Director Tony Berns (shown left) are still trying their best to hide public information from the public.
The most recent egregious exercise of this policy was brought to light by reporter Tom Hasslinger’s article in the February 11, 2011, Coeur d’Alene Press headlined online with LCDC director, activist spar over records request.
If you believe Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, the purpose of Idaho’s Public Records Law is to “…protect[s] each citizen’s right to monitor the actions of state and local government entities by providing access to governmental records.”
As today’s newspaper article notes, Mary Souza tried to use the LCDC’s online request form, but she found that she could not fill it out and submit it online. So she did the next best thing: She followed the LCDC’s required format in an email request she composed. Look again at the specific form the LCDC demanded she use, then look at her message to Berns. Clearly, she included all the information in her email message that the form requires. In fact, she included more. She included her email address and asked that the LCDC’s reply be in a common spreadsheet format.
Berns balked. Mary persisted. Mary won.
But why couldn’t the LCDC and Berns demand that their specific form be used? Because Idaho’s Public Records Law does not allow them to deny an application for public information based on the applicant not using a particular form. The only justifications for denying Mary Souza’s request was if all or part of the information she wanted was exempted from disclosure by Idaho Code §§ 9-340A through 9-340H. None of the information she requested was exempt. In other words, Berns and his cronies on the LCDC can withhold information based only on the content of the information itself, not on the format of the request. Berns and the LCDC Commissioners are not allowed to amend the Idaho Code by adding their own private exemption which says, “The LCDC can deny releasing public information if the requester doesn’t use our form.”
All the LCDC could require is that a request for public records be submitted to it in a writing (see Idaho Code §9-337(16)) that provides the requester’s name, mailing address, e-mail address and telephone number. And Idaho Code §9-338(4) provides that, “A request for public records and delivery of the public records may be made by electronic mail. “ So when Mary Souza found that the LCDC’s own online form could not be completed online and transmitted via email without somehow imaging it, she did the next best thing: She included all the information required by the LCDC’s form in her email. Here again is her message to Berns, a request Berns rejected because it wasn’t on the proper form.
But Berns and the LCDC Commissioners aren’t any quicker to reply to requests that have been submitted on their form. Berns deceived the Press and its readers in today’s newspaper article when he said, “No one has had an issue with completing the LCDC public record request form per the LCDC public record policy.” Well, yes Tony, someone has. I had an issue with it.
In order to get a timely reply to my request, I needed to hand-deliver a copy of it to the Coeur d’Alene City Hall. The receptionist on duty at 9:48 a.m. on April 27, 2007, assured me she would “put it in Tony’s mail box” at City Hall. Berns had a mail box at City Hall? And here I thought that the Idaho Supreme Court had ruled in Boise Redevelopment Agency v. Yick Kong Corp., 94 Idaho 876, 499 P.2d 575 (Idaho 1972), that “Urban renewal agencies are not the ‘alter egos’ of cities under the Law.” The Supremes affirmed Yick Kong in Urban Renewal Agency of City of Rexburg v. Hart, 148 Idaho 299, 222 P.3d 467 (Idaho 2009) when they said the city’s urban renewal agency is “…an arm of state government, entirely separate and distinct from the municipality.” Yet Berns had a mail box at City Hall which he serviced promptly while allowing Certified Mail to lie unclaimed the LCDC’s own mailbox .
The Executive Director and some Commissioners of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho’s urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corporation, appear to have enacted and then on more than one occasion followed an official policy which is contrary to the Idaho Code. They have engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful conduct. They all need to be removed.