What we said two years ago remains true today: Transparency is one of the hallmarks of good government in a democracy.
Two years ago, former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown filed a lawsuit against the Columbus Police Department regarding a public records request. The lawsuit contended that the police department did not fulfill her formal request for a report about an incident on Aug. 23, 2016, which involved a former county jail commander and a county parole supervisor. Brown contended that the material she received from CPD lacked all the factual circumstances and descriptions of injuries, property or weapons involved.
That prompted a formal complaint by Brown to Indiana’s public access counselor, Luke Britt, who sided in favor of Brown, saying the material given to her didn’t meet the requirements of state statutes.
CPD said it had turned over all the information it had, and city attorney Alan Whitted asserted in a response to the public access counselor that the city was not required to generate documentation about the Aug. 23, 2016, incident because no was arrested, summoned to court or jailed.
However, Special Judge Richard Poynter has now sided with the public access counselor’s ruling and with Brown in the lawsuit, saying that the information given to her contained insufficient information to meet the requirements of Indiana’s Public Records Act, and that the information she sought existed at the time of her request. The judge said in his ruling that “CPD’s denial that such information existed was, at worst, a dishonest statement, and at best, an inaccurate one.”
While the city has the option to appeal the ruling, which states that CPD should pay Brown’s legal fees, regardless, this is a loss for the city and its police department.
Local government, including its police agencies, should strive for utmost transparency at all times because doing so builds public trust.
Local government functions to serve its residents and taxpayers, and should do so in a manner that provides information and services easily and clearly, and in a manner that builds confidence with residents and shows it has nothing to hide. That did not happen in this case.
Information that the public access counselor and Poynter said should have been made readily available to Brown when requested was not provided by CPD. In the process, thousands of dollars have been spent on a lawsuit that should never have gone this far.
We hope that the ruling is taken as a lesson that local government should strive for utmost transparency and readily provide information when requested by the public.