FORMS

HYPOTHETICALS

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Objecting to Closure

Journalist's Reply to Motion to Close Court or Public Meeting to Press or Public:

"Your honor (Mr. Mayor, Ms. Chairwoman), I am , a reporter/photographer for , and I would like to object on the record to this proposed closing. I respectfully request a hearing and recess so that our counsel can be present to make appropriate arguments. I cannot make the arguments myself, but I believe our attorney can be here relatively quickly and our attorney will be able to demonstrate that we are entitled to a hearing and that closure of this proceeding will violate the First Amendment (the Mississippi Open Meetings/Public Records Act) and possibly other constitutional and statutory provisions."

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Requesting Records:

A sample letter

Your Address

Telephone and Fax Number

Date

Title of Custodian of Records

Title of Public Body

Address
 

Dear Public Official:
 

Pursuant to the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983, Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-1 et seq. (Supp. 1996), I request the right to inspect and copy (insert a clear description of what you are seeking.) I request that any copied material be provided to me in the following format: (insert a clear description of the format in which you want the material).
 

(OPTIONAL: Because this information is intended for dissemination to the general public, I request that you waive any costs or fees that otherwise might be charged.) If you assess any charges related to this records request, I agree to pay your actual cost incurred in searching and duplicating these public records, up to an amount not to exceed $ . If you anticipate costs in excess of that amount, please contact me before proceeding with this records request.
 

Where exemptions to the Public Records Act are discretionary, I ask you not to withhold such records, even if they might qualify for withholding under the law. If you withhold any records as exempt, please redact the exempted portions and release the remainder of the records, as required by § 25-61-9(2) of the Public Records Act. In any case where you withhold public records, please explain in writing any such denial, as required by the Records Act.
 

If you have any questions regarding my request, I would appreciate your communicating with me by telephone rather than by mail. I look forward to your reply as soon as is practicable, no more than 7 working days. Thank you for your cooperation and assistance.
 

Sincerely;

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FOI Hypothetical Situations

(NOTE: Although these hypothetical questions are based in part on Mississippi statutes, cases and actual news events, there is no "correct" answer to any of the questions that follow. The hypotheticals are designed to encourage journalists to anticipate issues and prepare for scenarios that may arise in covering news events in Mississippi.)

1.) City wants to annex 10 acres of growing suburban area. The idea is highly controversial. A consultant is hired to study feasibility of annexation, related costs, etc. City Council wants to hold executive session to meet with consultants. What are the arguments under the Open Meetings Law for/against the city's position?
 

2.) Three members of a five-member City Council meet regularly at the country club to golf, drink coffee and talk about city business. Is this a public meeting?
 

3.) All five members of the five-member City Council play on the same team in a golf tournament. Can a reporter demand to tag along and record their conversations?
 

4.) City Manager keeps all financial records on computers. As budget time approaches, he tells the City Council that fees might need to be raised for various city services. He mentions a draft version of the budget, but does not hand out copies. Questions:
 

• Can a member of the public request and receive a copy of the draft budget?

• Can the manager's internal memoranda about the budget, to the mayor and staff, be reviewed and copied?
 

• Can a requester require the manager to specify which fees might be raised, and why?
 

5.) The finalized budget is to be voted on by City Council. At the meeting, a 300-page tome is distributed to members of the Council, and members of the public (including the press). Council members take 5 minutes to review the budget, then unanimously approve it. What issues related to records/meetings might be raised by this scenario?
 

6.) City Police Department requires all officer applicants to fill out a detailed application, and all applications are encoded into a database.

  • How might a requester benefit from the computerized nature of the records?
  • Can a requester get the names of applicants?
  • If Police Chief refuses to give any information, and explains the refusal by pointing out that applicants' names are exempt, is there any recourse?

8.) Police chief decides that his department no longer will provide access to daily police logs, citing the exemptions under the Public Records Act. What issues arise?

9.) City buys a state-of-the-art computer system, and hires the whizzes required to run it. Mayor, an anti-tax crusader, plans to generate maintenance costs (and salaries for the operators) through user fees. A graduated series of fees are established, based on the amount of time, the type of information, and the way the requester plans to use the information. (Direct mail companies pay premium rates; people searching old land records for genealogy purposes pay little or nothing.) What issues arise?

10.) School Board discovers that, due to an accounting error by city officials, the school district will fall $2 million short of its annual budget needs. The ensuing controversy creates tension between School Board and City Hall, and between parents and the school district. School Board decides to hire a public relations consultant to advise the board on how to handle the controversy. To limit further publicity, the School Board decides to have each board member meet individually with the consultant and to refuse media access to those meetings. Analyze this hypo under FOI laws.

Copies of the handbook may be ordered from Dr. Jeanni Atkins at the Department of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Contact her at (662) 915-7146 or iatkins@olemiss.edu. Copies cost $10 each (or $7.50 for two-nine copies, or $5 for 10 or more).

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