Putting on the Ritz with the Associated Press
Political tap dancing, dodging and out and out evasions are nothing new in government offices. There is always a desire for politicians to keep their deliberations private in hopes they won’t be exposed for not having thought something through or otherwise compromise the eventual decision reached based on those deliberations. That said, the public records email dump of conversations between former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and other figures in and out of state government by incumbent Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office have provided great fodder advocating for more transparency in government.
Apparently that got some citizens curious about how Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco thought to acquire the records. One of those citizens, Andy Markle, made a public records request to the Indiana Department of Education regarding LoBianco’s public records request. We have the correspondence between the Dept. of Education’s staff attorney and Markle as well as LoBianco’s “original” request. You can view the documents and judge them for yourself.
Now here are some things that stick out to me at first blush:
- Katie Williams-Briles writes to Markle that she is unable to provide LoBianco’s request for emails because it was a verbal request, even though the instructions she provides to Markle in her response to his initial request includes a link to the agency’s policy for handling public records requests under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. The website it links to states in boldface, all caps that her agency requires all records requests to be made in writing per Indiana Code citation 5-14-3-3.
- Another interesting point about Williams-Briles claim that LoBianco’s request not being available because it was made verbally seems to be at odds with the month-long correspondence that she provided in response to Markle’s followup to her response. Could it be that she receives so many requests that she just happened to forget that she had been corresponding about this request for weeks?
- Something is just wrong about LoBianco’s request – it’s clearly not the original document. For one thing, the pagination of the ordered list continues from the top (oldest) to the bottom (earliest) email. There could be a simple explanation for all this, like it was all contained in one Word document. However, the pagination of the individual emails is also odd… with LoBianco’s requests changing font type for apparently no reason.
- The timing of the modified requests does not jibe with the stories written by LoBianco – where did he get the emails to write a story about Mitch Daniels and the Howard Zinn book on July 21 when he hadn’t revised his public records request requesting those materials until July 23?
Now, it’s going to be time for the Supt. Ritz to start explaining how she will be making changes and fixing problems that cropped up in the first few months of her term. Given the detail its clear that LoBianco knew what he was looking for when he made the requests, and Supt. Ritz’s staff may be looking for a way to shift the spotlight away from her department’s performance issues and focus it elsewhere. It’s just too bad her staff was so eager to use state resources to continue her smear campaign against her predecessor that they couldn’t get the law right or their facts straight when responding to questions from one of her constituents.