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Hat Tip to Coalition (“open government activists”) in Washington City Paper

dcogcadmin | August 6, 2014

DC FOIA helped City Paper’s “Loose Lips” columnist, WIll Sommer, write recently about how DC Council Member Marion Barry’s staff spent hours working on his autobiography, Mayor for Life.  Sommer’s July 30 piece was based on e-mails and calendars released at his request under the District’s public records law that covers the Council as well as executive branch agencies.

So revealing were the official e-mails, Sommer joked “Barry needs a staff more skilled in Wilson Building subterfuge, or at least in registering some Gmail accounts.”

The interesting back story is — that wouldn’t work. 

Sommer acknowledges the practice “became so widespread that open government activists sued to stop it.”

That would be the D.C. Open Government Coalition suit in October 2012, filed after the Council rejected its request for members’ official e-mails on private accounts on grounds they were outside Council control. (See press announcement of filing and complaint, below.)

In negotiation, the Coalition pointed to courts elsewhere opening such accounts when used for official business. Council attorneys settled the suit a few months later, agreeing to look for official business on private e-mails if requested under FOIA.  (See settlement below.)

The Council’s new openness was described this way:

“[I]f there is a reasonable basis to believe that some or all of the reasonably
described records responsive to a particular FOIA request are to be found in a non-governmental
email account of a Council employee, including the Chairman and each Councilmember, the
FOIA Officer will take reasonable steps to identify and collect such materials in response to the
FOIA request, such as by requesting that the employee search for and produce the record
believed to be in the employee’s possession.”