This is the eighth in our series of interviews with Sunshine Activists. Our Sunshine Activist this week is Gregg Smith, aka “Gee Guy” who blogs at the Electric City Weblog and lives in Great Falls, Montana.
- What year did you file your first open records request?
- What documents were you looking for?
Financial documents related to a coal plant that our city plans to construct on its outskirts.
- Did you get those documents?
Some of them, after months.
- Charles Davis of the National Freedom of Information Coalition has talked about having “a FOI moment”. Have you had “a FOI moment” and can you describe it?
I don’t know exactly when it occurred, but at some point I realized that the people I was dealing with just weren’t being honest, and they did not feel any special need to comply with the law.
- What is the worst (or funniest or most obstructionist or most outrageous) reply you’ve ever received?
Montana law defines certain documents as not public records, stating, for example, that the government does not have to maintain copies preliminary drafts of documents as public records. Our local City Attorney argued that this language prevents disclosure of preliminary drafts.
- How quickly do you generally receive replies to a request?
- About how many open records requests have you filed?
- How do you let your friends, neighbors or the local media know about the documents you get?
I post them on my blog.
- Have you run into any trouble as the result of filing open records requests?
Other than local officials disliking me, no.
- What’s the most significant political outcome that has resulted from the work you do?
While not public records work, a local justice of the peace withdrew from his race after stories printed on the blog.
- Has your local newspaper ever commented on the work you do? Favorably or unfavorably?
Favorably or unfavorably? Our local newspaper studiously avoids discussing any story broken on the blogs.
- What’s your best advice for other “Sunshine Activists”?
Don’t assume that public officials will always act honestly and in good faith.
- What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
See my “best advice,” above.
- If you could change your state’s open records law just one way, what would that change be?
There would be no exceptions in the statutes.
- Do you participate in any formal way in organizations that promote the freedom of information cause?
- Are you willing to have other “sunshine activists” from your state get in touch with you?
Thank you, Gregg. A large banquet should be thrown in your honor should you ever get all the documents you’ve requested about that coal plant.