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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A sample letter
Telephone and Fax Number
Title of Custodian of Records
Title of Public Body
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.
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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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies
cost $10 each (or $7.50 for two-nine copies, or $5 for 10 or
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