UPDATED 3:10 pm May 15: The governor, through his spokesman, David Farmer, has said he supports the decision of the Corrections Department and the Attorney General's Office to depart from previous executive-branch practices and charge the news media to fulfill a public-records request.
Our continued efforts to open the Maine Department of
Corrections to public scrutiny have hit another stone wall. Diane Sleek of the
Maine Attorney General's Office today issued a ruling requiring the Portland
Phoenix to pay the maximum amount allowed by law for access to public records,
despite our repeated requests for a waiver of fees.
It remains to be seen whether her boss, Attorney General
Steven Rowe - who is running for governor in the 2010 election - backs her on
this matter, or whether Governor John Baldacci does, either. I'll update this
report when I hear back from them. (I'm not that hopeful about Rowe; see "Government Secrecy is Fine with Maine's Attorney General," by Jeff Inglis, October 10, 2007.)
The fees are not required by the state's Freedom of Access
law, which does allow agencies to charge fees if they wish, and which limits
the fees to $10 per hour.
Sleek has not only decided to charge a fee, but also to
charge $10 per hour.
She has, in addition, denied our request for a waiver under
the provision of the law that covers requests that are "in the public
interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public
understanding of the operations or activities of government."
This request is for public records regarding what criminal
charges since January 1, 2004, have been brought against the Department of
Corrections or any of its employees acting in their official capacities, and
the disposition of these cases.
The request also asks for information on which employees of
the Department of Corrections in the last five years have worked for the DOC
while charged with or under sentence for any criminal conviction, including any
charge or conviction not connected with their employment.
If that's not in the public interest, it's hard to know what
is. But as we have long documented, the Corrections Department and the Attorney
General's Office are committed to erecting barriers to transparent government. (See "Stonewalling is Normal," by Lance Tapley, December 13, 2006.)