In a letter Sept. 10, the D.C. Open Government Coalition called on Mayor Muriel Bowser to rewrite her administration's proposed legislation and regulations governing public access to police body worn camera videos. Because of the importance of public access to the goals we share of transparency generally, and police accountability in particular, we ask that you reconsider the plan, which does not include recommendations of the advisory group the City Council established to help draft public access rules.
Joined by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the ACLU of the National Capital Area and the D.C. Police Union, Kevin M. Goldberg, coalition president, wrote, "You recall that our groups have all taken an active interest in transparency issues in your administration. As the BWC plans developed, we joined many in the community pressing the Council to take a thoughtful approach to the topic of public access, as the Council eventually agreed. Thus we supported the Budget Support Act on final passage for its plan requiring a proposed rule to reach the Council by October 1 and mandating an Advisory Committee of identified stakeholders, including the Coalition. Act A21-0148, § 3003(b).
"Unfortunately the process has lacked the transparency we believed the Act required, so that it now appears any regulation reaching the Council will lack serious views from the mandated Advisory Committee. Specifically, the schedule initially outlined by the Executive Office of the Mayor to the Advisory Committee called for a draft by August 7, committee comments due September 9, followed by revisions leading to the final draft of proposed rules ready October 1. That plan has been thrown by the wayside.
"Three weeks after the planned August 7 date, the Executive Office of the Mayor circulated only a memo providing the barest framework of a proposal. At the Advisory Committee’s latest meeting on August 27, officials told the committee that the final proposals, consisting of a hybrid of regulations and legislation, would be released much earlier than planned so as to encourage a Council hearing next month. However, we were under the impression that the Advisory Committee would also be able to review and comment on the detailed final proposal.
"We were encouraged by that extra step because the “framework” memo we were given before the August 27 meeting included serious limits on access; the need for further deliberation was clear in that meeting, where discussion revealed the need for further details on several issues. In fact, staff from the Executive Office of the Mayor agreed that it would be premature to rush to judgment on that memo because it was not a detailed final proposal.
"Yet, when those details were revealed to the Advisory Committee yesterday, there seemed to be few, if any, changes to the earlier framework. In fact, it seems as though the proposed legislative and regulatory changes have moved further back toward the full exemption you originally proposed. And, though this was the first time we were able to review the actual proposal, it appears that we are not being given any opportunity to comment on them before they are made public.
"We conclude the expert and community members of the Advisory Committee mandated by the Council have been given no opportunity for meaningful input into the details of this proposal before it was publicly released with time for the executive branch to consider them before completing its proposals to the Council. We are sorry to see that the Administration has essentially used this Committee for show, trumpeting a collaborative process and concessions when, in fact, there has been little deviation from the originally proposed FOIA exemption."