Our Voice: Everyone has the right to open records

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Farm Forum

In a story in Saturday’s paper, Kay Nguyen tried an old reporter stand-by. She filed a FOIA request with the city of Aberdeen for FOIA requests they’ve received.

FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act. Anyone can file a FOIA request with local, state or federal government for access to information that might be public.

For Sunshine Week, which highlights the importance of open government, we wanted to see what kinds of information the public has asked the city for.

We didn’t get any documents. City Attorney Adam Altman told us that’s because his office rarely receives any formal FOIA requests.

We asked him to go back and look again.

He might be forgetting the one filed by the American News on Oct. 11. In that request, filed by email, we asked for several documents related to an incident in which a dog was shot in city limits by an Aberdeen police officer, including forms, helmet and dashboard video and on-duty rosters.

On Oct. 12, Altman emailed us that some of that information was “no problem” to give, but that he would have to do some research to see if other information was legal to release.

That is a common and reasonable answer to FOIA requests. Not all information can be made public, legally.

Five months later, we are still waiting for any response from the city, even on the records we were told would be “no problem.” We received no further direction or fulfillment or denial of the request.

In fact, it seems to have been forgotten.

We bring this up today, on the last day of Sunshine Week 2013, to remind readers that they have a right to demand access to information.

And though newspapers have no more special right to information than anyone else, we do have to wonder: If the city has forgotten our request, are there others that have been forgotten or discarded or ignored?

— American News editorial board