A requester who is denied records of the planned Metro rail Safety Commission should get an independent review without the time and cost of going to court.
That is the recommendation of the DC Open Government Coalition to the DC Council in supplemental testimony submitted October 19.
“If requesters perceive the administrative appeals process as fair, they will be less likely to litigate,” said Coalition president Kevin Goldberg.
The Council is considering legislation to create the Commission, demanded by federal officials to strengthen attention and resources for safety in the trouble-plagued rail system.
Secrecy provisions in an early draft drew criticism and a revised text was considered at an October 4 hearing. That draft directed the Commission to follow federal law on open access to records and meetings. In response to Coalition concerns raised in testimony, Council members at the hearing asked the Coalition to submit further ideas to improve the appeals process.
A lawsuit in federal court would remain an alternative, the Coalition said in the new statement. Most important, the group stressed their “either-or” proposal would relax a rule in the federal Freedom of Information Act requiring a non-court appeal first, before any lawsuit could be filed.
The Coalition’s suggestion of two optional paths for review, said Goldberg, is “the most requester-friendly plan and will maximize the already-strong right of transparency created in the revised Act.”
The testimony further suggested specific methods to assure independence in review of non-court appeals, drawn from experience in other transit authorities. For instance, a panel of retired judges evaluates appeals of denials by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The Coalition statement is available at the link below. No schedule has been set for further action by the DC Council. Legislatures in Maryland and Virginia will consider the legislation next year.