Pandemic: Government escapes scrutiny absent money for freedom of information challenges

Citizens of a Cleveland suburb may never learn the details of a sweetheart deal the city made with Sherwin-Williams to get them to stay. The deal included a confidentiality clause preventing the release of information about the project to build the company a new headquarters with $13.5 million in public funds. With the pandemic crippling the Cleveland Plaindealer, the newspaper has no money to fight for transparency. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $80,000. (Columbia Journalism Review, April 20, 2020, by Mya Frazier)

Professor Roy S. Gutterman, Syracuse.com, March 27, 2020, writes that with the pandemic, it is essential that the public know information with dispatch. Yet government agencies are seizing on the public emergency as an excuse for suspending compliance with freedom of information laws. “Locally, government officials have been forthcoming with tons of public information, including warnings,” writes Gutterman. “Yet, reporters have been told information about the purchase of ventilators will not be disclosed for some time. A lack of transparency on something that mundane, a throwaway sentence in a news report, raises questions of what else is being kept secret, and why?”

For related FAC coverage, click here, here and here.

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