Friday, October 11, 2002

State of Hawaii

Opinion sought on access
to Harris’ phone records

City officials denied Star-Bulletin
requests for that information

By Rick Daysog

The Star-Bulletin has requested an opinion from the state Office of Information Practices after city officials denied the newspaper's requests for telephone logs and scheduling calendars for Mayor Jeremy Harris and several top city officials.

In a two-page letter to OIP Director Moya Davenport Gray, Stirling Morita, the Star-Bulletin's night editor, said the newspaper believes that such records should be available to the public under the state's open-records law.

"Numerous court cases have said that release of such government documents do not constitute invasion of privacy," Morita said. "We believe such records to be public records."

In letters to the Star-Bulletin dated Tuesday, city spokeswoman Carol Costa denied the newspaper's requests to photocopy or examine telephone logs and scheduling calendars of Harris, City Managing Director Ben Lee, Deputy Managing Director Malcolm Tom, Department of Design and Construction Director Rae Loui, former Design and Construction Director Randall Fujiki, former city Budget Director Carroll Takahashi and former Finance Director Roy Amemiya.

The Star-Bulletin had requested the calendars and telephone logs from Jan. 1, 1997, to the present.

Costa argued that under state law, such documents are not government records and that their disclosure would constitute an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." She also argued that such records by their nature must be confidential to "avoid the frustration of a legitimate government function."

Morita cited a 1984 federal appellate court decision in Washington, D.C., that found that appointment calendars, telephone message slips and the daily agenda of an assistant U.S. attorney were public under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Under the ruling, the documents are deemed public if they were in the agency's control, generated by the agency, placed in the agency's files or are used by the agency for any purpose, he said.

According to Morita, Costa failed to specify how the release of information would frustrate a government agency's function, nor did she specify how the release of such records constitutes an invasion of personal privacy.

Under Hawaii's open-records law, a government agency has the burden to show why the records are private or why they would frustrate the agency's functions.

The OIP's Gray said her office has not yet issued an opinion on whether scheduling calendars and telephone logs are public. But generally, if a government agency creates a document about official government business and maintains those records in its offices, it is presumed to be a public record, she said.

"I think the blanket denial raises more questions," Gray said.

State of Hawaii

E-mail to City Desk


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