Many Ways to Access Public Information in Takoma Park
Although the COVID-19 health emergency is keeping our City facilities closed to the public, City staff are continuing to serve Takoma Park residents. We are working hard to keep information up-to-date on our webpage, we answer your phone calls and emails, and we often meet with residents in virtual meetings on a number of subjects.
Recently, there have been some questions about Public Information Act requests and other requests for information. If someone has a question about a project, they can go to the City’s website and look under Initiatives (for example, Takoma Junction Development Review or Bus Stop Improvements), or they can directly contact the staff person associated with the project. City staff readily answer many questions a day from residents and Councilmembers. If certain information is not on our website and we realize it is of interest to more than a few people, we add it to our website or we do a social media campaign or a Takoma Park Newsletter article to get the word out. We work hard to be responsive to residents’ questions and concerns.
Sometimes, there is interest in the production of records (such as copies of emails or financial data or Police reports), which qualifies as a Maryland Public Information Act request. Pursuant to the provisions of State law, we produce records that have been requested. Sometimes the collection of the records is time-consuming, so a charge* is required for more than two hours of work, recognizing that some large requests could take staff away from other duties. In these cases, staff of the City Clerk’s or City Attorney’s office communicates with the requester to see if there is a way to modify or narrow the request to limit the cost of the work involved in producing the records. This is the approach outlined in State law. In having these communications, we frequently learn that the requested records may not actually be the best way to obtain the information and we can help the requester get the information they need in a different way or for a more precise time period.
* Here is more information on fees. (The City’s fee waiver process is handled by City staff and necessarily follows the statutorily prescribed process. With respect to a fee waiver, the statute requires that one be requested. The request must be made with specificity as to why it should be granted, but that is only the first step in the process. The second step under the statute is whether the applicant meets the criteria for a waiver. Under the Maryland law the criteria may be met if the applicant for the fee waiver is indigent (an affidavit of indigency is required in support). Alternatively, after the official custodian considers the ability of the applicant to pay the fee and other relevant factors, the custodian may grant the request if the custodian determines that the waiver would be in the public interest. Maryland cases are sparse on the public interest analysis. Maryland’s Attorney General’s Public Information Act Manual recommends reviewing federal Freedom of Information Act cases regarding the public interest analysis. The nature of the analysis applied by the federal courts depends on the basis for the fee waiver request).
If you’re having difficulty finding the information you are interested in, please call the main City’s phone number at 301-891-7100, the City Clerk at 301-891-7267, or the City Manager at 301-891-7229 or SuzanneL@takomaparkmd.gov.
During these challenging times, different questions may arise, but we are still here to help!