Hine Coalition Files Freedom of Information Act Request for ANC6B Documents
Large Loophole in Act Will Protect Many Documents
by Larry Janezich
Members of the Hine Coalition – a group of Capitol Hill residents who sought to have the Zoning Commission’s approval of the Hine Project overturned – have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request, seeking emails and documents related to ANC6B’s consideration of the Hine Project.
Between 2011 and 2013 ANC6B was actively considering and/or voting on matters related to the Hine project. Since then, while there has been no Hine business before the ANC, the Hine Coalition unsuccessfully appealed the Zoning Commission’s decision through the courts.
ANC6B held a “Special Call” meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the FOIA. Present at the meeting in an advisory capacity was Gottlieb Simon, Executive Director of DC’s Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
Prior to the meeting, Simon told CHC that FOIAs are being filed for ANC documents across the city with increasing frequency. Typically, he said, a FOIA does not result in benefit for the requestors. This could be because of a very large loophole in the Freedom of Information Act called the “deliberative process exemption.” The provision essentially allows government agencies to withhold from disclosure anything that would have a chilling effect on deliberations among members or staff of an agency (including the ANC), or between two government agencies. The exemption would not appear to apply to emails or documents between the ANC (or individual commissioners) and the developer (Stanton-Eastbanc) or other individuals. The language of the DC FOIA exemption is identical to that in federal law and reads as follows:
(4) Inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters, including memorandums or letters generated or received by the staff or members of the Council, which would not be available by law to a party other than a public body in litigation with the public body. A complete list of exemptions can be found here: http://bit.ly/1KKPQXz
When the special call meeting convened on Wednesday night, ANC6B Chair Kirsten Oldenburg – who has been one of the strongest supporters of the Hine redevelopment – characterized the request as “a very broad request for emails and documents from January 2011 to the present … to my mind, a bit vague.” Several of those named in the request have left the commission, having not sought re-election.
Simon said he had contacted the requesters and asked them to narrow their request, but to date had received no response. He added that he thought his additional comments would better be conveyed in executive session. The ANCs can go into executive session – which means excluding outsiders – only to discuss personnel and legal matters.
With that, Oldenburg declared that the meeting was in executive session and everyone except the commissioners and Simon left the room.
Chair Oldenburg subsequently told CHC, “While the ANC took no formal action at the meeting, there was a definite consensus among the Commissioners present that we fully accept our responsibilities to fulfill our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.”
A copy of the FOIA request follows:
To: Kirsten Oldenburg, ANC6B Chair
October 19, 2015
Cc: Hine Coalition
Subject: FOIA Request – ANC6B
Dear Chair Oldenberg:
This Freedom of Information Act request for information is made pursuant to the District
of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, DC Official Code §§ 2-531 et seq., on behalf
of the Hine Coalition. We request a waiver of any fees associated with this request,
because the information requested is primarily for the benefit of the general public. See
D.C. Code § 2-532(b). In addition, we request that materials produced in response to this
request be in electronic format such as a PDF file or another Miscrosoft Windows
compatible file, where such files exist, and otherwise in hard copy. We also request prior
notice to production if any costs will be charged to us.
We request the following records:
- All emails from January 2011 to the present time sent or received from
ANC6B, but not limited to Kirsten Oldenburg, Brian Pate, Ivan
Frishberg, , Kennan Jarboe, Norm Metzger and all ANC
commissioners in office at the time period, related to the terms “Hine Junior High
School,” “Hine School Development,” “Hine PUD,” “DMPED,” “Deputy Mayor for
Planning and Economic Development,” “Stanton-EastBanc, LLC,” “SEB,” “EastBanc,”
“EB,” HPRB, or “Historic Preservation Review Board” in the subject or body of the
mail. This includes all emails from January 2011 to the present time sent or received
from ANC6B to or from Hine School Development, Hine PUD, DMPED, Deputy Mayor
for Planning and Economic Development, Steve Hagedorn, Stanton-EastBanc, LLC,
SEB, EastBanc, EB, Historic Preservation Board, HPRB, the Office of Councilmember
Tommy Wells, or the Executive Office of the Mayor. We are requesting all emails,
whether they were sent on ANC or non-ANC accounts.
- All documents, whether electronic or non-electronic, that mention the Hine
Junior High School, Hine School Development, Hine PUD, Stanton-EastBanc, LLC,
SEB, EastBanc, EB, HPRB, DMPED, or the Executive Office of the Mayor.
The Hine Coalition is submitting this FOIA request in the interest of government
transparency. If this request requires any clarification, please do not hesitate to
Marcella M. Hilt
For the Members of the Hine Coalition