Archive for the ‘freedom of information act’ tag
The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. has done a laudable job, I think, of covering the recent stew over Gov. Mark Sanford’s brouhaha (and that’s not funny “haha”) regarding his affair with Maria Belen Chapur in Argentina. In this story, the newspaper reports that the media, from national outfits to local ones have been lobbying the Governor’s Office, and particularly Joel Sawyer, the governor’s spokesman, about potential interviews with the governor. At the last link, you can find PDF versions of e-mails obatained by The State via the Freedom of Information Act. Included are:
I think a word might be in order about the FOIA. Many people, though they rely on the press to do much of the legwork, don’t realize what is available to them via this law. I currently live in Georgia, but since Sanford was referenced, here are some documents that are in the public forum and available to any resident who requests them, whether they are a member of the media or not (from the South Carolina Code of Laws):
(d) The following records of a public body must be made available for public inspection and copying during the hours of operations of the public body without the requestor being required to make a written request to inspect or copy the records when the requestor appears in person:
(1) minutes of the meetings of the public body for the preceding six months;
(2) all reports identified in Section 30-4-50(A)(8) for at least the fourteen-day period before the current day; and
(3) documents identifying persons confined in any jail, detention center, or prison for the preceding three months.
The “reports” reference in part (2) are:
(A) Without limiting the meaning of other sections of this chapter, the following categories of information are specifically made public information subject to the restrictions and limitations of Sections 30-4-20, 30-4-40, and 30-4-70 of this chapter:
(1) the names, sex, race, title, and dates of employment of all employees and officers of public bodies;
(2) administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public;
(3) final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, as well as orders, made in the adjudication of cases;
(4) those statements of policy and interpretations of policy, statute, and the Constitution which have been adopted by the public body;
(5) written planning policies and goals and final planning decisions;
(6) information in or taken from any account, voucher, or contract dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds by public bodies;
(7) the minutes of all proceedings of all public bodies and all votes at such proceedings, with the exception of all such minutes and votes taken at meetings closed to the public pursuant to Section 30-4-70;
(8) reports which disclose the nature, substance, and location of any crime or alleged crime reported as having been committed. Where a report contains information exempt as otherwise provided by law, the law enforcement agency may delete that information from the report.
(9) statistical and other empirical findings considered by the Legislative Audit Council in the development of an audit report.
(B) No information contained in a police incident report or in an employee salary schedule revealed in response to a request pursuant to this chapter may be utilized for commercial solicitation. Also, the home addresses and home telephone numbers of employees and officers of public bodies revealed in response to a request pursuant to this chapter may not be utilized for commercial solicitation. However, this provision must not be interpreted to restrict access by the public and press to information contained in public records.
Again, this is only South Carolina code. Other states have different codes. For a full list, visit this link. Generally, the long and short of it is that, specifically regarding police reports, which are often the most controversial, all initial police reports are public record whether they involve juveniles or not. Further, the juvenile’s name, age or address can not be blacked out. It’s all public record. To be fair, most, if not all, newspapers don’t print juvenile names if they were involved in crimes, but they have the right to. It’s just not in good prudence in most circumstances.
And most certainly, with regard to the e-mails referenced above, those government documents are fair game. Newspapers, and sometimes, television networks, put in FOIA requests, but the general public also has the right to the same. Remember: reporters are just acting as normal residents within their rights. But the difference is that reporters do so with more diligence because they have a job to do. So, to conclude, don’t hesitate to learn the code for your particular state, and if a situation comes up or if you are merely doing research, you will be knowledgeable enough to query your particular local or state government to force them to present the record(s) in question. The sunshine laws, or whatever they may be called in your state, are beautiful things.