- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh said Wednesday she plans to introduce legislation this year to combat reported stonewalling by the executive branch regarding Freedom of Information Act requests.

Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said she has heard numerous complaints that suggest D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles is not properly executing the duties of his position as a public official.

“Maybe it’s showing yet again that he’s not able to make the transition from a private practice, scorch-the-earth policy, to public servant,” Mrs. Cheh said Wednesday after a council committee hearing on transparency in government.

Mrs. Cheh did not give specifics about the legislation but said it would involve “enforcement and consequences” for not responding to FOIA requests.

Kristopher Baumann, who chairs the labor committee that represents Metropolitan Police officers, said he supports FOIA-compliance legislation because of his disputes with the city over public-records requests.

Officer Baumann said the Fraternal Order of Police has eight active cases in D.C. Superior Court because the executive branch refused to respond to requests or give a reason as to why. He said two cases are before the D.C. Court of Appeals.

“They file motion after motion and they don’t even give a reason or file for an exception,” Officer Baumann said. “We’ve prevailed but the cost is to the taxpayers because they run up legal fees.”

Mr. Nickles disputed the claims and said Officer Baumann’s requests are excessive and the real drain on taxpayer dollars.

“All of the requests [Officer Baumann files] are designed to completely bollix and bog down the police department,” Mr. Nickles said. “We are being inundated.”

Mr. Nickles said his office calculated a cost of nearly $3 million last year to fill FOIA requests. That figure could not immediately be verified.

He said Officer Baumann and a handful of others, whom he would not name, are abusing open government laws and preventing the government from responding to legitimate requests.

“We do all we can,” Mr. Nickles said. “It’s hard to keep up.”

Officer Baumann has been one of Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s most vocal critics. Police officials stripped Officer Baumann of his police powers in July, claiming he had missed mandatory training. Officer Baumann, who claimed he was being retaliated against, had his police powers restored a few days later.

Mrs. Cheh said the police union has been very vocal about its problems with information requests but that she has received complaints from journalists and others as well.

D.C. attorney David P. Frankel filed a lawsuit Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court charging the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development has not complied with a FOIA request from July 17 about construction of the Tenley area library.

Mr. Frankel said in an e-mail that he decided to sue after incurring “many frustrations and solid brick wall.”

Mr. Nickles said Wednesday he was not aware of the lawsuit.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and other council members said the executive branch has been unresponsive in a number of areas beyond FOIA requests.

“It’s been not sending witnesses to hearings, not providing documents,” Mr. Gray said. “It’s a dynamic that’s much broader than a specific situation.”

In July, Mrs. Cheh said she thinks Mr. Nickles should never have been appointed and should resign.

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