Public Records Are Media Obstacle

The Idaho Press Club has sued Ada County for multiple violations of Idaho’s public records law. The lawsuit, filed in 4th District Court in Boise, seeks full release of records related to four different public records requests by the Press Club and its members.

It also seeks a change in how Ada County handles future public records requests, to make county officials comply with Idaho Code. The REPORT.

The GUARDIAN has found that the so-called “Freedom of Information Acts” and public records laws are nothing more than ways for politicos and coppers to hide and delay the reporting of public information.

All too often reporters simply fall into the routine of filing records requests rather than chasing tips and confirming facts.

Early day Dave Frazier

Back in the days of reporters and “newspapermen” (rather than first name personalities at broadcast outlets) there was a mutual trust and a bond between reporters and sources that would be impossible in today’s world.

When I came to town in 1968 as the police reporter for the STATESMAN, the Ada Sheriff and Boise Police had a clipboard with a copy of EVERY REPORT and it was available to me on a daily basis. It was a treasure trove for news stories–humorous, tragic, and downright stupid.

The fire dispatchers often called me in the wee hours of the morning between the time they dispatched the rigs and when they arrived. Calls often were no more than, “House fully engulfed with people inside on Pasadena.” The BFD also issued me a set of used turnout gear (helmet, boots, coat).

When the STATESMAN published my account (taken from the clipboard) of a copper locking a drunk in the trunk of his car to keep the interior of the squad car clean, it caused a huge split in our society. The drunk was an African American. The officer hated the paper for decades claiming he put a blanket in the trunk to make it comfortable for his prisoner. The story would not see print today.

When a prominent local insurance agent gave away his wife’s diamond jewelry to a prostitute and made a false burglary report, it was on the clipboard. Today it would be a “pending investigation.”

A copper heard a parrot talking at a residence and remembered reading my report of a stolen bird that spoke a certain phrase. He was able to solve the crime and arrest the thief. That one would certainly be worthy of a press release today!

I had midnight calls from high ranking coppers giving me tips about everything from deputies blowing the roof off of a squad car with a shotgun to the impending arrest of a state official who embezzled hundreds of thousands from the highway department.

Today, all that is hidden from public scrutiny behind the phrase, “Make a records request.”

Those requests habitually take the allowed 10 day response time and often are highly redacted, sometimes to the point of providing nothing more than a page number and date. They also can come with fees in the hundreds of dollars.

This oldtimer suggests the reporters establish a mutual trust and even friendship with their sources. Never burn your sources, confirm the accuracy of the information, and try not to get used by the politicos.

Click for the complete press release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Idaho Press Club today sued Ada County for multiple violations of Idaho’s public records law. The lawsuit, filed in 4th District Court in Boise, seeks full release of records related to four different public records requests by the Press Club and its members. It also seeks a change in how Ada County handles future public records requests, to make county officials comply with Idaho Code.

State law provides just one recourse to correct a public records violation: a lawsuit.

The incidents summarized in today’s lawsuit include the following:

– Ada County waited nearly 40 days to respond to a public records request by Cynthia Sewell of the Idaho Statesman. Idaho law requires a response within three days, and allows for an extension of no more than 10 days.

– Ada County responded to a second request by providing pages of almost entirely redacted documents. The request, filed by Melissa Davlin on behalf of the Idaho Press Club, concerned any communications regarding fulfillment and delay of Sewell’s initial request. This response rendered impossible any effort to determine why the county ignored state law. Among the excessive redactions, the county removed Davlin’s own email address from the records it then provided her.

– Ada County similarly illegally redacted records provided to Jennifer Swindell, who asked on behalf of the Idaho Press Club for information on previous public records requests to the county.

– Finally, Ada County completely denied a records request by Katy Moeller of the Idaho Statesman, citing privacy grounds that do not exist in Idaho Code. Moeller had requested 911 recordings regarding two accidents.

“These violations by Idaho’s largest county only encourage further confusion and abuse of public records law throughout the state,” said Melissa Davlin, vice president of the Press Club and chair of its First Amendment Committee. “We trust our efforts today will result in increased access to records for journalists and members of the public.”

“Our laws say that the public has a right to access public records, and we expect all levels of government in our state to follow the law,” said Betsy Russell, president of the Idaho Press Club. “The Idaho Press Club takes this very seriously.”

Boise attorneys Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham are representing the Press Club.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Jumping Through Hoops With Boise
    Sep 4, 2019, 10:57 am

    What an unbelievable difference from your days as a reporter. Good to see the Idaho Press is pushing on this issue. The City of Boise should pay attention to the outcome of this lawsuit, as my experience with obtaining information from various Departments within the City can range from very responsive and transparent to complete frustration, jumping through hoops, and occassionally a total lack of reply received.

  2. My most recent request ended up in a roadblock with this:

    “I have discussed this with ACHD’s General Council and your request is not a public records request but an information request which I believe such protocols have been discussed with you in the past.”

    This reply directly conflicts with ACHD Policy 2023.1 “…information relating to the conduct or administration of the public’s business.”

    I eventually found out what I was requesting, but not the specific information about how it is done. I think the major problem with the current system is agencies and/or their attorneys that do not understand what a public record may or may not be.

  3. Yep.
    ACHD is likely the worst. If you want a simple question, you will likely get the “make a formal request” reply.

    Garden City Police once told me, “they lost my request papers” and to resubmit— they were moving offices at the time, so it was easy to pass.

    The Idaho Legislature has not put a severe penalty on the law.

    Accountability and transparency? Not so much.

  4. The three libs controlling ADA county right now will quietly accomplish whatever TeamDave tells them to do.

    EDITOR NOTE–You obviously don’t know Commish Rick Visser very well! However two out of three is a majority.

  5. Fraz is spot on with his illumination of the failures and sellouts controlling the MSM headlines. Local media absolutely sucks with very few exceptions, and they are proud of it. Anything it takes to make TeamDave happy and maybe be considered for a government spokesperson job.

  6. Handsome Oldtimer
    Sep 4, 2019, 2:10 pm

    Love the photo, thanks for adding this.

  7. Concerned Neighbor
    Sep 5, 2019, 8:08 am

    99% of the media are no longer factual reporters or have the ethics and drive that Dave does. Because of that, nearly every government, corporation, and private entity has blocked media access because of the reported twisting of facts that TV misinfotainment has abused them with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at an incident with police or fire then watched it on the 6pm news but didn’t recognize anything that TV was talking about because they twisted it so far from reality.

    Does the 1st amendment protect lying? Because that’s what passes for most “news” today.

  8. Boisean Since Forever
    Sep 5, 2019, 11:35 am

    How things change. The government exists to protect the people, but now the maze of regulations causes a thoughtful citizen to conclude that the job of government has evolved to the point of protecting itself FROM the people.

  9. Trying to figure out how a couple of years of Military Reserve bike-skills park decisions were made under wraps at the request of the donor, Friends of Military Reserve had to put up nearly $700 to have our Public Records Requests filled. Nearly 80 percent of the records deemed responsive to our requests were withheld as “privileged.” Incredulous, we consulted an attorney to challenge those determinations, which of course means appealing to the district court. Our cost for the city to produce all those contested records for the court was enough to dissuade us from pursuing the matter.

    I’m glad to see that the Press Club is taking on the county for its PRR violations. I hope someone will do the same for the city’s rampant abuses of public-records disclosures. I also have difficulty believing that a multi-million dollar project like the Military Reserve bike-park got approved without some council deliberation prior to its placement on a consent agenda where it was approved unanimously.

  10. Clancy – I would forward all your info to the Idaho Press Club. It may or may not be helpful to their suit.

  11. We would not have these problems if the legislature led by “Idahoans are stupid Bruce Newcomb” back in 2002 had not voted to eliminate term limits.

    Think about it Team Dave would be gone completely as would many of the so-called servants in the legislature.

    We also need better transparency laws that includes police, fire and ems communications.

    Idaho also needs laws that mandates politicians make available to the public all tax records and personal income, no exceptions! We need to know who is bribing whom, or rather taking a lobbyists money.

    Nice photo. How many words per minute could you type on that old clunker?

  12. David, it’s not that we’re stupid, we are lazy. Low voter participation rate would become even lower with term limits. The attitude would be “I’ve done my job so why bother to vote, they won’t be eligible next cycle anyway.” In the meantime the interest groups will continue to fund popular, persuadable, pop-up puppets to further dilute the choices of the electorate. Transparent information and public involvement in the election process is the only solution.

  13. I am coming in late, but it is an important issue. There are two approaches to record requests. The first and appropriate one is that all records are public and the presumption is to disclose unless an exception applies. That is the approach the State has taken over the years. The other is figure out how the records are exempt and figure out how to jam the response into the code provision. Local governments seem to follow that route. Elected officials come to the issue with no knowledge and have to be educated, often by their civil attorneys. So, and I hate to say this, but it really is the attorney’s bias and fault driving this bus. Moreover, the bias becomes institutional because electeds come and go and never learn the topic to the degree necessary to undo the culture.
    Court cases cause ripples in the pond, yet one decision in Ada County has no impact on, say Nampa or Mountain Home.

  14. I have witnessed the progressive downfall of print and TV reporting for over 50 years. I remember when the Idaho Statesman was filled with news stories from stem to stern. When contrarians made claims and stated positions about important topics, they got coverage. Didn’t matter if they were right or wrong, readers could decide for themselves. As the years went by, the paper shrank in size and the contrarians have disappeared. The only time they appear is when the Swampish editors can use them for their own backlash smearing campaigns, like we see day-to-day against Trump.

    There is no more reporting, there is just a monolithic propaganda system that has been building for years over time. It’s about 100% lockstep Fake News. You MUST go to alternative news sources to get informed and develop your own critical thinking skills. Dare to think outside of the mainstream box that constrains your perspective. You are supposed to be a compliant consumer of their Fake News, not a thinking citizen who is interested in a just and fair look at facts.

    This is how crooks in politics succeed. They know they can count on compliant media to help them shape their “woke” narratives.

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