When are public records open for the public to view?
There are a lot of exemptions when it comes to restricting public records, according to the Freedom of Information Act.
And over the years, politicians and their cronies have managed to keep more and more so-called public documents under wraps.
But that doesn’t mean all exemptions are unreasonable. Certainly, attorney memos involving ongoing and pending lawsuits filed against a city should remain out of public view, at least until the case is resolved.
And it’s reasonable that information involving ongoing or pending contract negotiations fall into that category.
But Hamtramck’s City Attorney James Allen is claiming that every single bit of information he includes in his monthly billing breakdown is “privileged” information that the public has no right to see.
Mr. Allen has overreached in his denial of our request to see his monthly billings.
We have been told by certain city officials that we should file a Freedom of Information Act request for the information because they think there has been some questionable billing.
We are not accusing Allen and his firm of wrongdoing, but we are awfully curious as to what taxpayers are being billed for.
The city pays Allen’s firm about $300,000 each year for legal services.
That’s a huge chunk of change for a tiny city like Hamtramck.
It begs the question: How does Allen justify that expense?
We think the public has a right to know, and we realize there might be some billings that Allen can’t release details of. But we should, at the very least, find out the date of each bill, how much was spent and who was paid.
Allen can’t possibly believe it’s legitimate to say that each and every billing is privileged information.
Does Allen really believe that his work will be compromised if we find out he talked with a certain councilmember or official from the state?
We also find it alarming that Allen gets to decide what his firm can or cannot release to the public when it comes to their billings. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Shouldn’t that be the job of someone else to decide – and not have that decision based on a recommendation by Allen?
From what we have heard, there are other media outlets interested in this information. This matter is far from over.
Lastly, what happened to pledges of a transparent government?