Bad Policy or Deliberate Hurdles

The job of the citizenry and press is to keep our elected officials accountable in all aspects of government whether it is at the HOA level or at the Presidential level.  Whenever an elected body becomes “offended” by accountability or choses to try and squash accountability, the citizenry and the press have a duty to push on and expose all aspects of such body.

As such, Government has passed Freedom of Information Acts at various governing levels to ensure citizens can access information.  FOIA is supposed to aid a citizen in enforcing accountability.

The Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government.  It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.

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Last night at January’s Town Council meeting a “housekeeping” item was requested to be revisited by Councilman Mark Flynn; Myersville’s FOIA policy.

A FOIA policy was passed in November 2014 by the Myersville Mayor & Council. This has been a somewhat humorous and ridiculous attempt to thwart the release of information by putting up hurdles instead of aiding the citizenry. The Town passed this policy, all the while hiding behind the statement that Myersville needs a “policy” in place.

Original drafts of the FOIA policy which were advised against by the Town Attorney had some of the following items included:

– Email request are not acceptable, you must snail mail a request

– Prevent citizens/reporters from contacting Town contractors for information or comment

The Mayor and Council actually wanted to try and make a citizen or a reporter get “permission” from the Town to contact a Town Contractor for information or comments.  Typical business agreements would outline that a contractor is not allowedto make information available to inquiries without the client’s permission.  This is reasonable, however, trying to prevent a citizen from making individual inquiries or reporters seeking comments from the contractor about policy, involvement, etc is laughable and absurd.

The desire to put such items into a policy either show the lack of understanding of creating good sound policy, or the attempt to create as many hurdles as possible.

Think about it.  You need to put in a request.  Instead of sending an email to the town, you must get a piece of paper, print their form, get an envelope , get a stamp, mail the document to the main office, then wait 30 days plus mailing time to get a request.  FROM A TOWN GOVERNMENT who serves roughly 550 homes, when a simple email would suffice.

If the M&C aren’t trying to put hurdles in the path of the Citizenry, than they are wasting the Citizens’ time by implementing such antiquated policies which waste taxpayer money as well.

It is our suspicion given the timing of this policy that this was enacted to thwart a single organization (you can guess which one) from disseminating information.  If the Town was actually receiving such a large amount of information request from multiple sources, it would have made better policy to re-evaluate what information is currently accessible to the public by using the Town website, which would allow individuals to retrieve such information without Town assistance.  Instead the Mayor and Council implemented a policy that clearly was designed to put hurdles in the path of accountability.

We can look at Middletown and many other Towns as an example.   For example Middletown publishes the following information :

Agendas and corresponding documents for the past 5 years

Complete Town Board and Town Commission minutes for the past 5 years

Board of Appeals minutes for the past 5 years

Budget and Audits for the past 11 years

A Town calendar which actually states ALL of the dates of board and commission meetings.

Online access to pay and access your water and sewer bill

Water and Sewer Ordinances

Water Quality Reports

Public Hearings & Notices

Planning and Zoning reports, ordinances and policies.

Approved Contracts for Town Business

Email Notification of Town News, Updates, Meeting dates and more

So instead of making Town business more efficient and transparent, our Mayor & Council pass new policy which is antiquated and not efficient at best, or passed policy which prevents information from being disseminated.

It appears that the Mayor and Council want to keep the Town of Myersville in the dark?

It’s not like OUR Mayor and Council passed a multi million dollar agreement that went bad OR  passed lifetime benefits to a single employee ( the same employee that has been intertwined in one of the worse financial deals in Frederick County),  OR told a FNP reporter to go pound sand….oh wait.

Nothing to see here move along

Last night at the January meeting, Councilman Mark Flynn wanted to change the FOIA policy to start charging citizen request at $25 an hour as soon as the request was entered!  Councilman Flynn cited some sources of what “other government agencies charge”.  Unfortunately Councilman Flynn should have take the time spent to research actual Maryland law or even Federal law.

Maryland law states:

“Opinions of the Attorney General 318, 329 (1986) (“The goal . . . should be . . . neither to make a profit nor to bear a loss
on the cost of providing information to the public.”). Fees may not be charged, however, for the first two hours of search and preparation time. GP § 4-206(c).”

Federal FOIA request allow:

“For a typical requester the agency can charge for the time it takes to search for records and for duplication of those records. There is usually no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication.”

Fortunately Councilman Mark Etheridge stated that the policy should not be used to deny information simply to reimburse for the cost, and NOT charging for the first 2 hours per MD law.

Flynn, rescinded his statement “agreeing” with him.

An item of note about requesting information: There is only a charge for PRINTED COPIES.  If a request can be filled via an electronic copy there is NO CHARGE as the charge is “neither to make a profit nor to bear a loss
on the cost of providing information to the public.”  

Bottom line, the Mayor & Council are going to do anything in their power at this point to stop the flow of information that they do not want disseminated.  They will not respond to questions posed to them via email, hiding behind the newly implemented FOIA policy and the public comments session during Town Meetings.

Mark Flynn stated last night that every citizen should show up to the meetings.

Well Mr. Flynn, should a citizen have to show up to every meeting to get information or get an answer to their questions from the M&C?   Apparently the Mayor thinks so per a recent email with Ike Wilson of the FNP:

“Basically, the Town will make all comments and answer all questions through its regular Mayor and Council Meeting and/or Workshop format.  Or, if it’s needed before then, through the FOIA process.”

This leads us to the obvious question:

What should the past and present behavior of our Officials lead us to believe about them?

Officials that lack any understanding of creating good solid policy for our Town?  Is it possible that our elected officials legitimately believe that this policy helps the citizenry?  Does restricting information availability save the Town money or help increase citizen involvement?  Of course not!  It would seem that the accepted method is to make information easily accessible online as demonstrated by Middletown and many other Towns.

Unfortunately this leads us to the conclusion that the only possible reason for the creation of this policy is to prevent accountability?  This is particularly concerning because only the guilty hide.


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