More Questions Than Answers
The Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation–through the Attorney General’s office– responded to my Public Information Act request regarding the dreary July jobs report it pulled from it’s website last month and replaced with a more upbeat report matching the rosy spin the O’Malley campaign had put on the data.
The original report stated that “Maryland’s economic recovery faltered in July.”
While the original report reveals that the O’Malley administration and reelection campaign have been less than truthful, the response from the AG raises even more questions about why the original report was removed from the DLLR website.
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My request asked for “all communications (internal and external) and documents regarding the removal of the July 2010 Employment Situation report from the DLLR website on August 20, 2010…”
In response, the Assistant Attorney General, Elizabeth Trimble told me some of the specific information in the emails would be redacted because they contain “personal medical information,” “personal telephone numbers,” “a personal email address,” and a “personal electronic communication number.”
What is this kind of information doing in official government communications?
Trimble’s response also states that several interagency and intra-agency emails have been withheld because they “contain deliberations, advice, or recommendations from one government official to another for the purpose of assisting in the decision-making function, as well as certain confidential executive communications of an advisory or deliberative nature.”
Trimble writes that release of these “pre-decisional documents” would “inhibit debate and discussion within the agency and would thus impair the integrity of the agency’s decision-making process.” She cites SG §10-618(b) and SG §10-615(1) as reasons for withholding the documents.
The Maryland Public Information Act Manual states that a custodian of public record may deny the right of inspection under SG §10-618(b) if the documents “would be privileged in litigation.” However denial is allowed only if “disclosure would be contrary to the ‘public interest.’”
How is disclosure of the reasons behind the removal of the July jobs report in the midst of a gubernatorial election focused on jobs not in the public interest?
The PIA manual states that SG §10-615(1) allows denial if disclosure would violate attorney-client privilege or grand jury secrecy, none of which are at issue here. Interestingly though the manual does note:
The Court of Appeals has stated that the executive privilege encompassed within SG §10-615(1) shields records made in connection with the deliberative decision-making process used by high executive officials such as the Governor and the Governor’s immediate advisors.
Martin O’Malley and his administration have some explaining to do.
Here is the full text of Trimble’s response