The results of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition audit were mixed for Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland. All town and city managers and municipal staff audited complied with requests, but schools and police stations varied compliance with auditors’ requests.

South Portland allowed the least access, with both the police department and the school’s superintendent refusing to release requested information. In Cape Elizabeth, only the town manager and school department were audited, with the school refusing access.

In Scarborough, all three offices allowed access, though according to the auditor’s comments in the Coalition’s report, police did ask the auditor for identification.

According to Scarborough Police Det. Sgt. Rick Rouse, identification is not required for access to public records. The only time identification is requested is to determine what kind of information can be given out to certain people. For example, some case details could be released to a victim in the crime or the victim’s lawyer, while they could not be released to everyone.

When the auditor asked an officer for the department’s pursuit policy, the request was passed on to Rouse, who handles all questions about public records. Rouse said that he did not know why the auditor was asked for identification, other than for a way to contact him once the record was ready to be picked up. Rouse carefully reads through the station’s policy on public records before releasing them.

“For me it’s difficult,” he said. “I can get in more trouble for releasing information than not releasing it.”

Rouse added that not releasing a document could result in a fine, whereas if he released the wrong thing, he could lose his job or be tried on criminal charges.

Rouse did receive public records training in 2003 at the Attorney General’s office in Augusta. These sessions are available to every town employee, though they are not required.

At Scarborough Town Hall, the auditor was asked to fill out right to know forms and received the information within the five days allowed by state law. Town Manager Ron Owens also sent the last three e-mails received by the town to another auditor who earlier mailed that request.

“Our policy is that all records are public and open for inspection,” said Owens. He added that all e-mails to and from town councilors are considered public record and he encourages them to send copies to the town clerk.

Scarborough town hall employees did receive training for public information a couple of years ago, said Owens and he feels that his staff is up-to-date on the law. The only thing his staff will not provide is detailed research, but they will make available any records needed for a particular request.

Scarborough Superintendent William Michaud does have his staff complete research, though he feels that sometimes lengthy searches can be perceived as “stonewalling.”

“Public records are public records,” he said. “We have no interest in denying the public that.”

Michaud did allow the auditor to copy the School Board’s policy on updating the crisis response plan. However, Michaud said that if the auditor had asked him for the entire plan, he might have denied the request in the interest of student safety.

Cape Elizabeth

In Cape Elizabeth only the school district and the town manager’s e-mails were audited. While Town Manager Mike McGovern immediately forwarded his three e-mails, the school department did not comply with the request. Superintendent Alan Hawkins had not returned phone calls seeking comment for this story by the Current’s deadline.

Like Scarborough, McGovern asks that town councilors send copies of their e-mails to him and to the town clerk. He said that though the Planning Board receives the most requests for public records, he makes sure that all of his staff knows what to release.

“It’s not so much training, but ethics that we have,” said McGovern.

South Portland

The only office in South Portland that allowed access to records was City Hall. Employees there did ask for identification, but only in order to send the tax liens and lawyers’ fees once they were ready.

The Coalition’s report calls the South Portland Police Department’s refusal “the most notable denial of access.” It goes on to say that the Coalition considers South Portland police as a model for public records training and philosophy of access.

According to Police Chief Edward Googins, all requests except the most routine, such as daily logs, are sent to the city attorney Mary Kahl.

In a letter of denial included in the report, Kahl wrote that certain information in the police pursuit policy, if released to the public, could endanger officers and others and is therefore not considered a public record.

Googins said that details such as when police end a chase or use spikes to pop tires is the information Kahl referred to.

He added that South Portland’s training and policy on public records is very strong. After the first audit in 2002, the report showed that South Portland did not release a document it should have. Since then Googins routinely updates policy, changed the name of the daily log from “media log” to “public log” and gives his staff more training.

“Policy revisions and training are the best way to deal with problems,” he said.

South Portland’s school department also said that safety was the reason why it did not release information about the crisis management plan.

Superintendent Wendy Houlihan said that while they always try to be as open as possible, she had to judge student and employee safety with the public’s right to know. South Portland’s crisis plan not only includes information about the lay out of schools and evacuation procedures, but employee contacts and personal information.

According to Houlihan, she tried to release some of the information, but found that wasn’t possible.

“The way our plans are, it’s a mixture of what everyone can know and what can’t be public,” she said.

Since the audit was meant only to see that the plan is updated, Houlihan intends to create a portion of the plan that shows that it exists and is up-to-date without releasing other information.

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