For once there is an open records issue that I am somewhat ambivalent toward. Generally, it is very easy for me to say ‘if it was created in the public realm, then the public deserves access to it’, but I find myself sitting on the fence with this story.
According to the Post-Cresent, “A former Kimberly High School basketball coach is continuing a nearly two-month battle for access to documents that may have contributed to his dismissal.” At first blush, I say ‘absolutely, give him the records!’. If there was back room dealing that lost him his job he deserves to know it. But, upon reading further, I see that he has indeed received the documents that he requested. It is the fact that names were redacted from the letters he received that has led to the public records battle. Hm, are those names really germane to what the individuals (not public officials mind, but parents in the school district) had to say about him? The question of whether or not private citizen’s communications with public officials are a matter of public record is a hard puzzle to solve, and in fact, has not yet been solved to anyone’s satisfaction to date.
John Miron has a point though when he says that “Those submitting these letters are not a protected class and have no ‘confidentiality’ rights. The identity of the authors is relevant information that I am entitled to.” And based on that, I am forced to agree with him. As matters stand, people in communication with public bodies know (or should know) that public bodies are subject to FOIA, and they ought to proceed under the assumption that one day their communications could be made public.
So, I’m back to ‘absolutely, give him the records!’ and don’t redact them. The possibility that he might just be seeking the names of those in the community that don’t like him is not relevant to the greater issue of the publics’ right to public records.