Editorial: End nonsensical public records ploy

Published Aug. 22, 2013

They need a history lesson at New Port Richey City Hall. Twenty-five years ago, the city wasted $50,000 fighting an indefensible public records lawsuit from two residents objecting to a bridge construction project. Later, the city had to pay $220,000 to settle a federal civil rights claim after bullying and intimidating Terence Brennan and Erin Sullivan, who had tried to preserve their neighborhood from increased traffic.

The faces have changed since 1988, but the shameful tactics haven't. The city is now facing a 2013 public records lawsuit after slapping an exorbitant charge on a request to review veterinary records by a critic of the city's Animal Protection Unit.

Instead of handing over the documents, the city sent Jessica Caplette a demand for $2,300 so the city's legal staff could read the paperwork before releasing it. The excuse? The veterinary records might contain information protected by federal patient privacy laws. What nonsense. Even if the address of Fido's owner is protected — a stretch by any reasonable standard — exactly why would the Animal Protection Unit be providing veterinary care to pets with identified owners? The focus is supposed to be on stray animals. And Caplette excluded from her request information about animals surrendered by owners or involved in quarantine cases — instances where personal information about the owners may be available.

Certainly somebody needs to check the records for an animal control operation that has dodged public accountability since its inception last year. The demand for an expensive deposit is an outrageous abuse of authority by a city trying to discourage public scrutiny. New Port Richey should turn over the records to Caplette immediately to end this avoidable litigation, the cost of which will be borne by city taxpayers. Then city leaders should go read the case file on Sullivan and Brennan vs. the city of New Port Richey.