Opinion supports Danville on city manager issue

January 08, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Mayor John W.D. Bowling didn't have to "find a way around" state law to keep the qualifications of finalists for city manager private because the law doesn't require that the city release them, according to an attorney general's opinion released Tuesday.

The city did eventually release the names and qualifications of six finalists, but not in direct response to an Open Records request from The Advocate-Messenger. When first denied access to the qualifications, the newspaper filed an appeal with the state attorney general. Based on conversations with the state office, the newspaper did not ask for the names, just the qualifications.

The City Commission is now interviewing those six people.

Ed Hays, a city attorney, said at the time that he first denied the request he didn't believe the city could release the information without violating the privacy of the candidates.

The opinion states, "The unsuccessful employees might also be embarrassed by disclosure that they wished to leave their present employment."


John Nelson, the newspaper's managing editor, considered the information a matter of significant public interest because the former city manager was forced to resign and the way that the matter had been handled had raised ethics questions in the community.

At the time of the newspaper's initial requests, Bowling had asked Hays, in a public meeting, if there was a way around releasing the names.

The attorney general agreed with the city's original position, saying that information about unsuccessful applicants for public employment are exempt from disclosure.

Assistant Attorney General Michelle Harrison said that the release of the names could scare off qualified candidates and wrote, " ... the public interest in ensuring the City Commission's ability to attract the most qualified applicants for the position of city manager is more compelling than its interest in records relating to unsuccessful applicants, and that the privacy interests of the unsuccessful applicants are paramount to both."

When a selection committee presented its finalists to the City Commission the newspaper believed, based on telephone conversations with the attorney general's office, that the names and qualifications, with personal information and names blacked-out, was a public record.

The attorney general's office acknowledged it had advised the newspaper that was likely the case, but then wrote, "... informal communication of this nature is necessarily based on incomplete facts and, therefore, lacks precedential value."

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