Seven Days Sues City to Get Burlington Telecom Documents | Off Message

Seven Days Sues City to Get Burlington Telecom Documents


Karen Paul recused herself at the October 30 council meeting. - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • Karen Paul recused herself at the October 30 council meeting.
Seven Days has filed a public records lawsuit against the City of Burlington seeking documents related to the sale of Burlington Telecom.

The city has refused to turn over records that concern Councilor Karen Paul's decision to recuse herself last month from voting on a buyer. Paul provided few details about her conflict beyond saying it "has nothing whatsoever to do with the parties interested in purchasing Burlington Telecom."

Seven Days filed a public records request November 1. The paper requested communications between Paul, Mayor Miro Weinberger, City Council President Jane Knodell and city attorney Eileen Blackwood. That same day, Paul announced that she had quit her job as an accountant with the firm McSoley McCoy & Co. to eliminate her conflict of interest.

On November 3, the city provided the paper with a few "heavily redacted" documents, according to Seven Days' lawsuit, but refused to turn over an email between Paul and Weinberger. The city claimed that the record fell under an exemption in the public records act for "interdepartmental communications."

"The records withheld ... are not interdepartmental communications because they are between one city council member and the mayor," the lawsuit says. It also says, "As a news outlet, [Seven Days'] need for these documents outweighs the city's interest in maintain[ing] confidentiality because the basis for councilor Paul's recusal is information Burlington residents need in order to decide as to the prudence of city council's decision to sell BT."

Paul and the city are the named defendants in the suit, which was filed on November 22. Burlington attorney Jared Carter of the nonprofit Vermont Community Law Center is representing the paper. Seven Days is asking a judge to order the city to turn over the records, declare its withholding illegal, and award the paper the costs and fees for bringing the lawsuit.

"Accessing government records is essential for journalists looking into issues of public interest," news editor Matthew Roy said. "We hope this matter, which involves the closely watched Burlington Telecom sale, will be resolved quickly in favor of transparency and accountability."

Said Carter: "The spirit and letter of the public records laws in Vermont are at the heart of our system of government and this case gives the city the opportunity for a fresh start when it comes to transparency. As U.S. Supreme Court justice [Louis D.] Brandeis stated, 'Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.'"

The city attorney's office did not respond Thursday morning to a request for comment.

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