.

Blogger: Slamming the Door Shut on Open Governance

The Commissioners voted to do this against the advice of their own County Attorney who opined that he thought it illegal to do so.

I confess. I use the Maryland Public Information Act to learn as much as I can about how the County Government operates. It is what the
Public Information Act (PIA) was created for; provide insight about our
government, a process of open government which I am dedicated to.

In the course of making PIA requests I have asked for e-mails both sent to the Commissioners and from the Commissioners to others. One
Commissioner in particular has taken umbrage at those requests, Richard Rothschild. Recently, he went about convincing his fellow Commissioners that the names and e mail addresses on the e mails be redacted, or struck out by using a heavy black marker so that they have virtually no informational value. 

The Commissioners voted to do this against the advice of their own County Attorney who opined that he thought it illegal to do so. By
voting to redact this information they also reached a new low in obstructing open, transparent government by actually stating that they didn’t care if it was illegal; that any citizen who didn’t like what they were doing could sue them for legal relief.

In triple play of convoluted actions the Commissioners stated that they were doing this so that people were not wary of communicating with them by e mail, thus giving others access to their name and e address but there is no inherent right to privacy when one communicates with any government official using e mail or regular mail. If I use the PIA to obtain e mails it is to see what is being communicated from one party to another and what it is about; it is not to obtain e mail addresses so I can use them to solicit business or send the addresses my personal political messages. Commissioner Rothschild certainly didn’t hesitate to give my e mail address to everyone on his e mail address list when he objected to my PIA inquiry. I just happen to have a copy of the e mail in which he did precisely that and the County Attorney informed me at that time that I had no right to expect privacy when using the PIA.

The Commissioners also maligned the Attorney General of Maryland when Rothschild publically stated last week that he thought legal opinions sought from the Attorney General would be politically skewed because Attorney General Gansler is “from the hostile political party”. This disparaging remark insults the Office of the Attorney General and the professional staff working there. The Attorney General is sworn by oath to uphold the law and unbiased opinions are a legal requirement of that office.

The third step they have taken further down this slippery slope is by defying their own attorney’s legal opinion. They will now be ordering someone on their staff, perhaps even the County Attorney himself, to perform what they are knowingly aware of as an illegal act. That’s some model the Commissioners are offering up to the public. Children and adults alike should take note of how their local elected officials scoff at the law.

I will continue to make Public Information Act related requests of the County and no doubt some will be for e mails of staff and the Commissioners. The Commissioner’s attempt to make those e mails a mystery by hiding who it is they are communicating with won’t deter me and I hope that the Attorney General takes note of their decision and considers what the implications are from it.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David J Iacono December 19, 2011 at 02:06 PM
I believe in open government and access to public information. However, I agree with the decision not to release e-mail addresses of residents who contact their district commissioner. It seems e-mails, home addresses, phone numbers and other personal information should be protected. E-mail addresses like phone numbers should be considered personal and private informatiojn that shouldn't be released.
David A. Grand December 19, 2011 at 02:23 PM
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Sir Walter Scott
Judith M. Smith December 19, 2011 at 02:33 PM
There is definitely a good reason to have email sender's names available for any electronic communication between commissioners and the public. Otherwise the wall between the public's right to know and the transparency the commissioners claim to want gets taller and wider. There are people who have close ties to the commissioners and the "public" should be able to view for themselves those contacts. The email addresses are not necessary --but there has to be a way the public can see who has sent the email. This attitude of Mr. Rothschild's of "let someone sue" is so uncalled for...he pats his pocket where keeps his copy of the Constitution but sure has his own interpretation of things...
Bonnie Grady December 19, 2011 at 03:02 PM
I think it might depend on the specific PIA request. To simply carte blanche say "delete 'em all" is pretty telling. That aside, their attorney is telling them it's illegal and they voted to continue the practice anyway. Kinda like the kid who sticks his hand in the cookie jar, knowing it's wrong but hoping he won't get caught. Remember when Rothschild pushed so hard for the board to set up a legal defense fund so early in their term? That should have been a clear sign that he wasn't going to play by the rules. And he convinced the others to pay for his not-so-little legal "insurance" fund. When are the other four going to learn that this guy is going down and he's dragging them along with him?
JOHN LOPEZ December 19, 2011 at 11:07 PM
"A professional politician is a professionally dishonourable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker." - H.L. Mencken
Buck Harmon December 20, 2011 at 12:52 AM
So would that make Shoemaker a professional politician or a bad lawyer..??
Buck Harmon December 20, 2011 at 12:54 AM
Thanks for sharing Neil....
Judith M. Smith December 20, 2011 at 03:14 AM
Are you implying that policticians are whores????

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something