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Board stiffens policy on requests for information

Public records no longer free from South Platte ambulance

by Stacy Wiedmaier
Landmark publisher

The Southern Platte County Ambulance District board members faced a full agenda at their regular monthly meeting held the evening before Thanksgiving. Two notable items of interest were proposed, a discussion and possible adoption of a closed record ordinance and the revision of policy in regard to future Sunshine Law requests.

The board jointly acknowledged they have never taken a vote during a closed session on any items discussed, but chairman Bobby Kincaid explained how the board’s EMS legal consultant in Jefferson City, Frank Foster, sent them a latter stating he “recommends clarification by ordinance” for access to the district’s closed records.

“If we adopt this ordinance tonight, it would mean all past, present and future closed session minutes are sealed unless someone were to take us to federal court,” Kincaid said. “If we don’t do this, people could get our closed session minutes.”

Board secretary Marte Zirschky said very few notes of closed sessions are kept by her to begin with and by law, the only things she must record are, “who motioned to start the session at what time and then who motioned to close it.”

“They’re not really what are considered in-depth minutes anyway,” Zirschky said.
Confused by why the ordinance in question was being proposed at all, board member Scott Ritchey made it apparent he was unhappy with the document.

“I cannot understand why we would need this?” Ritchey questioned of his colleagues. “Think about this. Why would we need a closed record ordinance if you’re telling me that no records are kept?”

Kincaid reminded Ritchey specifically that, “we don’t know who will be on this board one or two years from now, we must keep this in mind.”

The ordinance states, “All district records that could potentially and legitimately carry the categorization of closed records, or otherwise be closed by law, whether the origin of that law be administrative, state, or federal, are hereby to be conclusively presumed to be closed records, until and unless made to be open records by an affirmative roll call vote by the board.”

The document goes on to state the above applies, “regardless of whether said closed records were produced in the past, present or future.”

Point three of the document provides direction for how the district should handle potential legal actions to claim the closed records.

“If the district should receive an administrative subpoena, a state court subpoena, or a federal court subpoena, for any district lawfully closed record, The district hereby reserves the right before honoring such a subpoena, to seek an in camera judicial review of the relevancy and materiality and scope of said subpoena and to further seek when and if necessary an appropriate protective court order.”

Requesting the opportunity to table the ordinance to study this document further, Ritchey said he felt unprepared to take a vote.

“I didn’t get a copy of this to read before tonight,” he said angrily. “I don’t like having stuff thrown at me, it doesn’t settle well. Another problem I have, is why don’t we have any legal counsel here tonight?”

Kincaid raised his voice in telling Ritchey, “We got this letter and recommendation from our legal counsel.”

Board member Richard Cull said the ordinance needed to be passed for their future protection while Kincaid made it known the local water district is passing the same ordinance.

“I’m for it,” said vice chairman Fred Sanchez. “We need to keep trivial monkey business from harming the dignity of this board. It may seem useless, but it’s a message.”

Treasurer Ron Wheeler made the first motion while Sanchez seconded. The ordinance passed by a 5-1 vote, with Ritchey voting against.

The topic of Sunshine Law requests and how much to charge for copies of email documents and labor was again approached for the second board meeting in a row. A resolution was passed by the board in August 2006 stating copies would be printed at a rate of 10 cents per page and a $15 an hour charge for labor would be implemented. The board discussed lowering the labor rate to $11 an hour, which is consistent with what the county charges, but they ultimately decided to keep the previous rate.

“If we continue getting requests it won’t be free,” Ritchey said. “We are done handing out free passes.”

Sunshine Law requests had been made in the past by a citizen asking for every email correspondence between board members. After hours were spent gathering the information and making necessary copies, the individual was never charged a fee.

Sanchez agreed with Ritchey, saying it was time to step up and protect the board from the public’s "harassment."

“I couldn’t agree more Mr. Ritchey,” Sanchez said. “We need to see if we can protect this body from future harassment. I want to remind this board that we can beef this (fee resolution) up and make it friendly, but legitimate. The person requesting the information should acquire an expense; it reflects the seriousness of what they’re asking. Where does it stop? Those with unlimited means could come to meeting after meeting requesting things forever. In the future, this board will reserve the right to their own judgment.”

Choosing to stick with the same topic at hand, Kincaid mentioned a Missouri Statute he came across where obstructing government operations is addressed. He took time out to read the paragraph to his board for informational purposes.

“A person commits the crime of obstructing government operations if he purposely obstructs, impairs, hinders or prevents the performance of a governmental function by the use or threat of violence, force, or other physical interference or obstacle.”

By violating this law, an individual can be charged with a class B misdemeanor. Kincaid said the board has not had to implement this law in the past, but they came very close to attempting to use it.

“People who come in and take over the meeting by wasting our time- well, we can do something about that,” Kincaid said.

Two more area attorneys were present at the beginning of the meeting to speak shortly with the board about their qualifications to represent the district. Robert Black of Witt, Hicklin & Snider is already vying for the position, as he was present at their last meeting.

Bradley Grill has practiced in southern Platte County for 35 years and said by his estimation, he has represented nearly 12,000 citizens during that time. He said his rate would be $150 an hour.

“I will take this job very seriously,” he said. “Bottom line, I will take care of your district needs.”

Daniel Fowler of Collins, Fowler, Harlan LLC. was present who said his hourly rate was $175. No travel time or expenses would be incurred. Fowler said he has spent the majority of his law career in litigation, also serving the Platte County Senior Citizens Service Fund as well as representing police officers in a case that went to the Supreme Court.

Kincaid urged the board to take the next month to review these three attorney’s qualifications before a decision is made during a vote at their next meeting.



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