TO BE PUBLISHED
March 25, 1993
IN RE: Ralph Walton/City of Richmond
OPEN RECORD DECISION
This matter comes to the Attorney General on appeal from the actions of the City of Richmond relative to Mr. Ralph Walton's February 22, 1993, request to inspect certain records in the City's custody. Those records are identified generally as public records pertaining to "funds given by the city to various property owners in the downtown revitalization area." In a letter dated February 25, 1993, Mr. Robert C. Moody, City Attorney, responded to Mr. Walton's request. He advised Mr. Walton that he would be permitted to inspect the records on March 5, 1993, at 2:00 p.m. in the City Clerk's office. He further advised Mr. Walton that the requested records were not voluminous, and any copying he desired could be done at that time.
In his appeal to this office, brought pursuant to KRS 61.880(4), Mr. Walton states that on March 5, he and an assistant, Ms. Shannon Richardson, went to the City Clerk's office and were informed by the Clerk that there were too many records to copy. Mr. Walton's offer to pay for the copies and pick them up at a later date was rejected.
He and Ms. Richardson returned to City Hall at 4:00 p.m., and were met by the City Manager. Mr. Walton described the ensuing scene as follows:
For the next thirty minutes, the City Manager stood over us and screamed at us, stating we had no need for the records. Miss Richardson asked him time and time again not to speak to her in that tone of voice because 'she was a human being just like he was'. [sic] The City Manager continued with what could only be called verbal abuse and harrassment. [sic] I could tell that Miss Richardson was beginning to cry, so I told the City Manager we would look at some of the records and come back on Monday. He said that we had until 5 p.m. to look at the records and that was it. Finally, in humiliation (because everyone could hear his voice throughout the floor), I selected some records to be copied and left.
It is Mr. Walton's position that the City's actions were tantamount to a denial of his open records request. He asks to be allowed to review the records "with some sort of dignity," or alternatively, "[to] be allowed to purchase copies of all the records. . . ."
We are asked to determine if the City of Richmond subverted the intent of the Open Records Act short of denial of inspection, by creating an atmosphere so hostile that it precluded Mr. Walton from effectively inspecting the records. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the City violated the Act.
KRS 61.872(1) provides:
All public records shall be open for inspection by any person, except as otherwise provided by KRS 61.870 to 61.884, and suitable facilities shall be made available by each public agency for the exercise of this right.
(Emphasis added.) In addition, KRS 61.872(3)(a) states, "A person may inspect the public records: (a) During the regular office hours of the public agency[.]" Finally, KRS 61.876(1) requires each public agency to adopt rules and regulations aimed at providing "full access to public records . . .," and "assistance and information upon request . . . ." That statute also requires that an agency's rules and regulations "insure efficient and timely action in response to application for inspection . . . ."
Underlying each of these provisions is the recognition "that free and open examination of public records is in the public interest . . . ." KRS 61.871. This office has consistently recognized that public agencies must work in a spirit of cooperation with individuals wishing to inspect their records. See, e.g., OAG 91-58. This necessarily includes creating an environment which is conducive to effective inspection.
The Random House Dictionary defines the term "suitable" as "correct or appropriate for a particular purpose or occasion." While a requester cannot expect the agency to provide facilities offering the enforced silence of a library, he may certainly expect that those facilities will afford him adequate opportunity to inspect the records without interruption, and without harassment. Assuming the facts presented by Mr. Walton to be accurate, we conclude that the City Manager's abusive conduct created a hostile atmosphere which rendered the facilities provided by the City unsuitable for inspection. His statement that Mr. Walton "had until 5 p.m. to look at the records and that was it," clearly contravenes KRS 61.872(3)(a). Pursuant to that provision, Mr. Walton must be permitted to inspect the City's records "[d]uring the regular office hours of the public agency . . . ," and cannot be restricted to a single hour on a given date.
We therefore find that although the City Attorney's initial response to Mr. Walton was entirely consistent with the Open Records Act, the subsequent conduct of the City Clerk and City Manager constituted a violation of the Act. The City of Richmond is directed to promptly arrange for Mr. Walton to inspect the records, and to provide suitable facilities for the exercise of this right, meaning facilities affording him the opportunity for unimpeded inspection.
The City of Richmond may challenge this decision by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court pursuant to KRS 61.880(5) and KRS 61.882.
AMYE B. MAJORS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Hon. Robert C. Moody, City Attorney
P. O. Box 250
Richmond, KY 40476-0250
Mr. Ralph Walton
P. O. Box 695
Richmond, KY 40475
Ms. Betty Houghton
P. O. Box 250
Richmond, KY 40476