A Guide To Hiding Public Records
The article is orgainzed into two sections: Reasons and Tactics. There are three reasons to hide public records and ten tactics to used hide public records.
The three reasons are:
- You have nothing to hide. (because you do little)
- It's none of their business. There are plenty of embarassing facts in those files. Why volunteer them to a pesky newpaper?
- We can't do our job if we had to tell everyone what we're were doing.
- Deny the record exists.
- Claim the request isn't specific enough.
- Make them pay for what they really want.
- Make haste slowly.
- Drive them nuts.
- Don't say more than you have to.
- Make mistakes and publicize requestor mistakes.
- Fake ignorance.
- Invent authority.
- Hire attorneys.
- You can always ask for forgiveness. Surrender the wrong records. Forget to hand over some of their request. Split up the request into pieces, give out some, forget others. When they complain, say their request was so complicated and that you were so busy, you made a mistake.
Mea culpa! Big deal! "What are you going to do, make a Federal case of it?" It's not as if you're going to be fired for making a mistake.
The best mistake destroys a record. Zap those e-mails, and later claim you didn't know you had to keep them. Don't make backups. Claim you don't have the budget [voting system] for that.
Erase audio tapes as soon as someone asks for them. These sorts of literal records are the most dangerous to release. After all, everyone knows the minutes of a meeting are the first opportunity to re-write history. One phrase in the minutes like "It was the general consensus that we should move ahead" will clear away the evidence of an hour of dissent on a tape. Losing the tape is an important part of preserving the official record of the minutes.
If someone asks for an electronic record in electronic form, print it out and destroy the computer file. A database on paper is almost worthless for research, but the printed version probably complies with the legal requirements for preservation of the record.
On the other hand, if the requester makes a mistake of any kind, say a lot about it. You'll look smart for pointing it out, and it'll build sympathy with your superiors. Point out that frivolous and repeated requests need not be answered.