Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Brentwood Says They Cannot Access Requested Emails

The Town of Brentwood has asserted it cannot produce emails in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request because they are unable to access relevant email accounts.

The issue involves two Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests filed by the Maryland Drivers Alliance chairman in October of 2010 and December of 2011.  The request were for, among other things, correspondence related to speed camera errors. State law requires a local government to respond to requests within 30 days, but the requester received no replies from the town for many months, despite having sent the requests both certified mail and attempting to follow up several times by email.  As of May 2013, we had still received no responsive documents. Several more attempts were made to resolve the matter with the town's newly elected Mayor, but in August the request had still not been fulfilled and we filed for judicial review.

In October 2013, after the case was filed (and three years after the initial request), the town produced about 60 pages of responsive correspondence.  However all of the included correspondence was dated after May 2013.  The documents released in October did reveal that errors had been discovered and voided several times in 2013, including several "incorrect tag numbers" and "False Speed Reading".
Portion of released documents

The requester agreed that personal data and citation images would not be included in the disclosure.  However there was no correspondence dated before May 2013, and no correspondence between the town's contractor and the specific email addresses and individuals known to have been involved with the program at the time the requests were made.

In November, we asked the town to look again at the specific email in-boxes known to have been used at the time of the requests, and to perform a "keyword search" for relevant documents.  Three months later, the attorney for Brentwood responded:  "the Town does not have access to these accounts.  These accounts were apparently utilized by former employees of Brentwood and no current employee of the Town can access these accounts."

The email addresses we asked about had been published on the town website, town newsletter, and town Facebook page at various times.  One of the addresses still appeared on the town website as a contact address as of 2/24/2013.

Both parties agreed to ask the court to delay the scheduled hearing for another 60 days, in order to make more time to recover the requested emails another way.

The case in question is Ely vs Brentwood, and is filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court as case number 380194V.  The Maryland Public Information Act authorizes a requester to file for "judicial review" in their home jurisdiction if a request is denied.