During the past 25 years as a community activist I have requested more than 100 public records from the City of Wilmington. Most of the requests have been granted and a few were denied for various but valid reasons.
For the first time in in those 25 years my recent requests have been diverted to a Columbus law firm that responds to my requests for a fee of $170 to $200 per hour. The firm insists that I go against stated city policy and send my requests directly to them.
From City policy: “The Clerk of Council is the official Public Records Custodian of all records which are centrally maintained by the City. Department heads are the official custodians of all records maintained within their departments. Public records requests may be made directly to Department heads or through the Public Records Custodian.”
I have no problem with the records official seeking legal advice on complicated requests, but that’s why we have an elected Law Director and the Service Director who happens to be an attorney and has given legal advice to the city in the past.
I have no knowledge as to whether or not my requests are the only ones being diverted. If all requests are being handled in this way the legal bills are mounting.
It appears to me, as an example, that a simple request for a record of correspondence between the Mayor and the defendant in a criminal case that did not lead to a judgment should be an easy and uncomplicated request to fill. If any doubts existed about the matter the Law Director and/or the Service Director could have advised the Clerk of Council. Instead the for profit law firm received and answered my request for the record.
For the record: “Ohio courts have long held that the Public Records Act should be construed liberally, in favor of broad access, and any doubt should be resolved in favor of disclosure.”
Editor’s Note: In response to the above letter, the City of Wilmington has provided documentation to the News Journal regarding Mr. Hunter’s repeated emailed requests and the city’s efforts to fulfill them. The city states that the combination of the sheer numbers of Mr. Hunter’s public records requests combined with some being vague, broad and/or redundant and the manpower of up to four people attempting to fulfill his broad requests has led to the city having to get a third party involved — Columbus attorney Mark Troutman.
Troutman has reiterated (along with specific corresponding court cases) in correspondence to Mr. Hunter that his requests are overly broad and voluminous, and that, “In an effort to fully work with you, the City has nonetheless undertaken efforts to search for records on the assumption that they could exist and that your request is not overly broad. After searching email accounts for the individuals listed in your requests and also interviewing them about the potential for responsive records, the City has found nothing responsive to your request.”