The Public Access Ombudsman’s Office is open but staff currently are working entirely remotely.
Maryland State Government is operating under policies intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining operations to the fullest extent possible. While we are attempting to conduct business as usual, working remotely means that our attempts to resolve PIA disputes with a variety of state and local government programs may be slower/less efficient than normal.
You can also call us at 410-576-6050 and leave a voicemail message to which we will respond as soon as possible. Please be sure to leave a contact email, if possible, so that we may write back to you.
We will make every effort to respond as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.
Maryland Department of Health – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Information
There are resources available on the Maryland Department of Health website. The link is: https://phpa.health.maryland.gov/Pages/Novel-coronavirus.aspx.
- PIA in the News. Public records survey highlights unevenness of Maryland state and local government tracking and responses. Baltimore Sun.
- The Court of Special Appeals, on March 1st, issued an unpublished opinion, Gov’t Accountability & Oversight, PC v. Frosh, upholding a denial under the PIA based on attorney-client privilege. Although the case cannot be cited in court, it’s discussion of this privilege is useful. The slip op. is here.
- Read today’s blog post. The Ombudsman and members of the PIA Compliance Board unanimously support HB 183.
- The Public Access Ombudsman testified yesterday at the Health and Government Operations Committee Hearing. Here is a copy of her written testimony in support of HB 183. Here is a link to the Hearing. The Ombudsman begins her remarks at 1:10.
- PIA in the News. UMD opposes state bill that would overhaul how Maryland handles public records requests. The DiamondBack. Matt McDonald. 02/12/21.
- Equitable Access to Government Information, a podcast discussion sponsored by the MDDC Press Assocition, features a discussion about HB 183 and how government information can and should be more accessible to the general public. The Bill is being heard today at 4 pm in the House HGO committee. Listen to the podcast here.
- MDDC Press Association interview of the Ombudsman can be found on their “Five Dubs Podcast”. This episode, #16, What about the PIA, is available at https://five-dubs.com/2021/02/04/e16-what-about-the-public-information-act/. 2/4/21
- Available on their website, The Office of the Attorney General has issued the 15th edition of its PIA Manual. 11/24/20
The Ombudsman makes reasonable attempts to help applicants and records custodians resolve their disputes regarding certain aspects of the Public Information Act, which are listed in § 4-1B-04 of the General Provisions Article. The Ombudsman cannot compel a custodian to produce a record, nor order a requester to alter the request, but rather serves as a mediator between them. Specific types of disputes include:
- Custodian’s application of an exemption;
- Redactions of information in the public record;
- Failure of a custodian to produce a public record in a timely manner or to disclose all records relevant to the request;
- Overly broad requests for records;
- Amount of time a custodian needs to produce public records;
- A request for or denial of a fee waiver; and
- Repetitive or redundant requests from an applicant.
Depending on the type of dispute, a request may be submitted by the requester or by the records custodian. The requester and the records custodian are always encouraged to attempt to resolve their concerns before contacting the Ombudsman. The dispute will derive from the nature of the request and the basis for the records custodian’s response.
Timing: Once a request for mediation is submitted to the Ombudsman and both parties consent to mediation, the applicable due dates are held in abeyance pending the outcome of the mediation. This differs from the schedule that applies to a complaint submitted to the Public Information Compliance Board. See “how do I file a complaint with the PIACB” for due dates and procedures. Examples include:
- A requester receives a response to a PIA request that claims an exemption or redacts information from the record—the request for mediation may be submitted immediately upon receipt.
- For a mediation request based on an untimely response (or no response within the required time period), there needs to be a passage of time sufficient to establish the delay. Allow enough time for the custodian to respond.
- A custodian who receives a request that might benefit from the Ombudsman’s services should submit a request for mediation immediately.