Editorial: City denies original request for public information
In preparation for last night’s Grant City Council meeting to fill the council vacancy, I requested from the city the resumes / letters of intent submitted for the vacancy. A public office is just that, public, and I believe the citizens of the City of Grant have a right to know who expressed interest in serving them as a council member.
My first request was denied.
The Nebraska Public Records Law is a series of laws designed to guarantee the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels. Public records include all documents, no matter the form, belonging to any government agency.
Now let me be clear, there are some exceptions, which are also outlined in state statute. One of which was provided to me in the city’s denial letter.
Before I delve into that, I’d like to start here. I’d be remiss to say I haven’t heard of frustrations from citizens about the poor treatment they’ve received from city administration. I myself have had a good working relationship with the city, and I had no reason to believe I would not receive these documents I requested.
On July 12, Robert Bounds resigned from the Grant City Council.
According to Nebraska State Statute 32-569, the vacancy was published in the Grant Tribune on Aug. 8, stating “any person interested in the council position for the remainder of the vacant term may submit a letter of interest or resume to the City Office or contact Mayor Michael Wyatt.”
Following the same state statute, the mayor submitted a name of a qualified registered voter to fill the vacancy for the balance of the unexpired term at the next meeting.
The statute states that a majority of the council must vote in favor of the nominee. The motion to fill the seat with that nominee died for lack of a second. Therefore, the nominee was rejected.
I submitted my request on Friday, Aug. 31. I received the denial letter Friday, Sept. 7, four business days after my request, which is the time they have by law to provide the documents or an exemption for denial. I personally don’t think it should take four business days to say no, but the law was followed, so moving on.
Their reason for the denial was based on a “job applicant” exemption in Nebraska Statute 84-712.05 (15), which specifies records of a job applicant, other than finalists, do not have to be released.
I disagree with their reasoning that these records are job applications.
As I stated before, the council is a public office. It’s not a job you apply for. These are not job applicants. This is not a behind-closed-doors interview process. Council members serve the citizens of Grant!
And even under this reasoning, statute requires the city to release documents of job applicant finalists. I would certainly consider these potential council members finalists at this point.
I sent an email to the city at 4 p.m. on Friday addressing my concerns and asked the city attorney and mayor to reconsider my request.
Mayor Wyatt called me Monday morning and gave me the names of those who have submitted themselves to be considered for the council position, adding another Monday evening.
But I have to ask.
Why couldn’t that have been done the first time? Why the lack of transparency?
I can’t speak for the city, but it definitely would’ve saved me a lot of time. I imagine finding a statute to deny my request and typing up a letter to do so took some time as well.
Regardless, I thank Mark Wendell, Kirk York, Dennis Hansen, Tim Bishop, Kim Bishop, Jason Kirkpatrick and Richard Thurin for volunteering to serve your city as a council member.
We went to press before the council meeting last night, but one of the above should now hold the seat.
Again, statute states that at this meeting, the mayor had to submit the name of another qualified registered voter to fill the vacancy, continuing to do so until a nominee had a majority of the votes to fill the vacancy.
The other option was to vote to take it to a special election.
So, congratulations to the new council member, assuming we now have one.