Critic taking city to courtPublished 10:02pm Thursday, July 25, 2013
Frequent City Council critic Chris Dove has a date with the city next week — in the courthouse — over documents he filed in an attempt to get a judge to order the city to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.
Dove delivered the writs of injunction or mandamus to City Council members during last week’s meeting and filed them with the court this week. The hearing is set for 10 a.m. July 31 in General District Court.
“My whole problem with the city is they only follow parts of laws they like,” Dove said this week. “If they get to ignore sections they don’t like, that’s an issue.”
Dove claims in the documents that the city has denied him the right to inspect city records and has failed to reconvene in an open meeting immediately after a closed meeting, as required by law.
Dove said the City Council has followed the requirement to reconvene in an open meeting immediately after a closed meeting only a handful of times in recent years, while disobeying it more than 80 times.
“There’s a 33- to 34-minute average between when they’re supposed to do it and when they actually do it,” Dove said.
State code section 2.2-3712D mandates that public bodies holding closed meetings “immediately reconvene in an open meeting” and take a vote certifying that only matters lawfully exempted from public discussion that were identified in the motion preceding the closed meeting were discussed.
However, Suffolk City Council usually waits until convening its regular meeting to take the vote.
“Some people would say it’s nitpicking, but it’s more of a principle thing,” Dove said.
Dove also said Planning and Community Development Department staff members refused him the right to see the plat for the Foxfield Meadows development near his home, saying it was a “working document.”
The Freedom of Information Act defines “working papers” as records prepared by or for a public official, including a mayor or chief executive officer of a city, for his personal or deliberative use.
“There were a whole bunch of evasions they attempted to engage,” Dove said.
Dove also claims the city is arbitrarily imposing a five-day delay on providing requested records. The Freedom of Information Act states government entities “shall promptly provide” requested records, with five days being the maximum time the entity has by law before making a response.
“If the document is sitting in front of you, ‘promptly’ means you should give it to me now,” Dove said. “The fact they get to pick which laws to follow is problematic.”