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Information about city job candidates is public

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         MICHIGAN         Freedom of Information         Aug 4, 2000    

Information about city job candidates is public

  • Releasing the names and other information about job candidates does not invade the applicants’ personal privacy, but a city manager may interview the candidates without violating the Open Meetings Act.

The identities and other information about the finalists for a fire chief job must be made public under the state Freedom of Information Act, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in late July.

The city of Bay City violated the FOI Act when it denied a newspaper’s request for the names, current job titles, residences and ages of the seven candidates for the city’s vacant fire chief position, the Court ruled.

In fighting the Bay City Times‘ request, the city argued it did not even have to satisfy the request because the request was vague and did not refer to specific records in existence. Instead, the newspaper had asked for merely information, not government records, the city claimed. In addition, the city argued that the release of the requested information would violate the applicants’ privacy rights.

The argument was upheld by the Circuit Court in Bay City, but it was rejected first by the Court of Appeals in Lansing and then by the Supreme Court, also in Lansing. The Supreme Court ruled that the newspaper’s request was sufficient because the FOI Act does not require a request to meet any technical requirements. Even though the city may not have a single record that contains all of the requested information, it nonetheless must release those records that do.

“[W]e note that it would be off indeed to ask a party who has no access to public records to attempt specifically to describe them. Because the request in this case was sufficient to allow the city to find the requested information, the request was valid,” Justice Robert Young wrote for the court in its July 27 opinion.

The court also ruled that releasing the requested information would not violate the applicants’ personal privacy. High-profile public employees must expect a certain measure of public scrutiny, so it only seems fitting that the public get a chance to learn about and scrutinize candidates for important public offices, the Court said.

The newspaper also argued that the city manager had violated the state Open Meetings Act when he met in private, without members of the City Commission or any other public body, to interview the candidates and to select three finalists. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the OMA was meant to apply only to governmental bodies, which by definition consist of more than one person.

(The Herald Company v. City of Bay City; Media Counsel: Scoot Strattard, Saginaw) BB

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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