Politics

January 19, 2013

Press Herald seeks release of Portland fireboat report

The report details a 2011 accident in which the fireboat sustained more than $50,000 in damage.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

An attorney representing the Portland Press Herald filed legal action against the city of Portland on Friday, requesting that the city release results of an internal investigation of a 2011 accident involving the city's fireboat.

click image to enlarge

The MV City of Portland IV fire boat in Portland on October 19, 2011. An attorney representing the Portland Press Herald filed legal action against the city Friday, requesting that the city release results of an internal investigation of a 2011 accident involving the city's fireboat.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

The appeal, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, seeks release of a report detailing the Oct. 15, 2011, accident in which the 65-foot, $3.2 million boat sustained more than $50,000 in damage.

The boat hit a submerged object while carrying two firefighters and a dozen friends and family members of one of them on a trip around Portland Harbor.

The city's fire chief at the time compiled an internal report on the accident that was expected to be made public after disciplinary action was finalized.

An arbitrator issued a final disciplinary ruling Jan. 7, and the newspaper filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the report Jan. 9.

The city responded that the report would not be released on grounds that to do so would violate a state law that protects confidential personnel information.

Danielle West-Chuhta, the city's attorney, did not return a call for comment Friday afternoon.

Sigmund D. Schutz, attorney for MaineToday Media, Inc., which owns the Portland Press Herald, said resistance by the city could create the perception of wrongdoing when the content of the document could confirm the opposite.

Schutz added that the personnel exemption to the law has become a popular avenue to block requests for information. The appeal filed Friday argues that even if some parts of the report are confidential, the city should release the remaining portions.

"It starts to become a gaping loophole," Schutz said. "The whole purpose of the right to know law is to allow the public and the media to play the watchdog role."

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at: 791-6303 or at

mbyrne@mainetoday.com

 

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