State Auditor Tom Salmon may be disappointed in the recent court ruling by Judge Geoffrey Crawford disallowing public officials to charge fees to produce some records for public inspection.
The auditor recently sent an ex parte email urging Judge Crawford to consider the costs imposed on state offices by requesters with "political and insincere" intent and to allow state offices to recoup costs associated with those requests.
"I hope as you consider the issue with public records requests, ample consideration can be given to those in state offices which undergo political and insincere requests for information," wrote Salmon in his Dec. 29 email. "Such requests need to have boundaries. Cost, scope and the state's true business should be given due consideration."
Salmon noted several records requests of his office, one from a Middlebury attorney Mitch Pearl, another from Seven Days and a third from his Democratic challenger in the 2010 election, Doug Hoffer. In all, his office produced more than 1500 pages of records in response to these various requests (see picture).
"This is a large burden to state offices that seek to serve citizen interests, not political interests," wrote Salmon. "If there are not reasonable expenses apportioned to a requester, I can only imagine how much state business risks derailment due to an agenda."
In the case of Pearl, Salmon contends that Pearl refused to pay about 25 percent of a sizable bill. Pearl tells Seven Days that it's true he did contest a portion of the bill, but only because Salmon's office had produced records that he had not originally requested.
"After a couple of letters back and forth, we decided to simply pay the full bill, since there really is no adequate process or procedure to challenge what we believed to be an excessive charge," Pearl told Seven Days.
During the campaign, Seven Days writer Ken Picard did request documents related to the work of the auditor's office as he prepared a profile of the auditor's race. (Additionally, I had requested documents in April related to the office's staff costs and budget.)
For his part, Hoffer said he requested information about a number of items dealing with his official activities including his office calendar, if he had met with officials from Vermont Yankee, travel expenses, and Salmon's efforts to deal with the dairy crisis.
Hoffer said he was disappointed in Salmon's response.
"For Mr. Salmon to complain about requests for information is ironic and hypocritical because he often talks about transparency and accountability. And he could have avoided all these pesky records requests by simply posting the information on the Auditor's web site," said Hoffer. "Mr. Salmon said that public records requests 'need to have boundaries.' It is shocking that the State Auditor thinks Vermont should reduce access to public records."
During last fall's campaign a supporter of Hoffer's — Burlington attorney John Franco — pushed for the public release of a video depicting the traffic stop and DUI arrest of Salmon in November 2009. Though Hoffer said he had no knowledge of Franco's request, Franco said he made the request to make political points: First, to raise questions about Salmon's judgment and second to point out the state police's disparate treatment between the release of a traffic stop involving then Sen. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and Salmon, a Republican. In Shumlin's case, the tape was released and in Salmon's case it was not released. Franco alleged that the difference was based on the politics, not public policy.
Coincidentally, it was Judge Crawford who ruled in Franco's favor last fall and ordered the DUI tape released.
Download Crawford's ruling: Download PRRcrawford
Download Salmon's letter: Download Salmonprr
Download Pearl's records request: Download Langrock Sperry 6.4.10
Download Pearl's bill: Download Sperry