Monday, March 2, 2009

Half-truths, obfuscations and apparent deceit

Below is a link to an excellent opinion article in the Washington Post about the value of newspaper reporters in keeping public information PUBLIC.
The exact same article could be written about Montgomery County Public Schools where Maryland Public Information Act requests are ignored or can take at least 30 days for a first response.
The MCPS Board of Education and Superintendent Weast are currently billing themselves to Annapolis Senators, Delegates and the Montgomery County Council as "open, transparent, and accountable". However, procurement information is still a mystery for approximately 700 interactive white boards (may be Promethean boards, but who knows).
The existence of a $3.3 million annual payment, 4 year lease for 2,600 Promethean Boards was only made public 60 days after a Maryland Public Information Act request by a parent.
Absent in Montgomery County, as also noted in the Baltimore article, are reporters able to do any in depth investigative reporting.

In Baltimore, no one left to Press the Police
By David Simon
Sunday, March 1, 2009; Page B01

...desk sergeants who believed that they had a right to arrest and detain citizens without reporting it and, of course, homicide detectives and patrolmen who, when it suited them, argued convincingly that to provide the basic details of any incident might lead to the escape of some heinous felon....

...And then I would stand, secretly delighted, as yet another police officer learned not only the fundamentals of Maryland's public information law, but the fact that as custodian of public records, he needed to kick out the face sheet of any incident report and open his arrest log to immediate inspection. There are civil penalties for refusing to do so, the judge would assure him. And as chief judge of the District Court, he would declare, I may well invoke said penalties if you go further down this path.
Delays of even 24 hours? Nope, not acceptable. Requiring written notification from the newspaper? No, the judge would explain. Even ordinary citizens have a right to those reports. And woe to any fool who tried to suggest to His Honor that he would need a 30-day state Public Information Act request for something as basic as a face sheet or an arrest log.

"What do you need the thirty days for?" the judge once asked a police spokesman on speakerphone.

"We may need to redact sensitive information," the spokesman offered.

"You can't redact anything. Do you hear me? Everything in an initial incident report is public. If the report has been filed by the officer, then give it to the reporter tonight or face contempt charges tomorrow."...

Half-truths, obfuscations and apparent deceit -- these are the wages of a world in which newspapers, their staffs eviscerated, no longer battle at the frontiers of public information....

So I tried to explain the Maryland statutes to the shift commander, but so long had it been since a reporter had demanded a public document that he stared at me as if I were an emissary from some lost and utterly alien world.

1 comment:

  1. I read that article when it first appeared and although it was inspiring, surely the author is overstating the judge's statement. I'm not a lawyer but the way I read Maryland's Public Information Act (PIA), it is not nearly as cut and dry as the articles describes. For example, there is a lengthy list of exceptions.

    Here's a link to the MD PIA:


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