Disclosure of Recordings of Public Meetings
A County Housing Authority (Housing Authority) violated FOIA by improperly denying the release of recordings of public board meetings in response to a reporter’s FOIA request. On August 23, 2017, a reporter requested, among other items, copies of “all audio recordings taken during Board of Commissioner meetings in 2017.” The Housing Authority denied the request for audio recordings, stating they were preliminary materials exempt from disclosure under FOIA Section 7(1)(f).
The Section 7(1)(f) exemption applies to “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated, except that a specific record or relevant portion of a record shall not be exempt when the record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body.” Importantly, Section 7(1)(f) is intended to protect the communication process and encourage frank and open discussion before a final decision is made, so only portions that reflect the give and take of the deliberative process may be withheld.
On review, the PAC found that Section 7(1)(f) does not apply to recordings of public meetings because information that is already public knowledge is not within the scope of the deliberative process exemption. Although the verbatim recordings may reflect preliminary discussions of matters pending before the public body, by virtue of the meetings being open to the public their recordings are subject to disclosure. The PAC ordered the Housing Authority to immediately disclose the recordings to the reporter.
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.