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Wright: Lebanon likely violated law - Police officers not promptly notified about releasing names
Aug 01, 2006 12:00 am
Lebanon's city attorney asserts Personnel Director Jim Henderson may have violated state law by not initially notifying police officers of their personnel records being released, clarifying earlier statements in published media reports.
City Attorney Andy Wright, in a letter to Mayor Don Fox and Lebanon City Council, spelled out a time line of events related to the release of city personnel records to county mayoral candidate Linda Elam's campaign manager. He said the release of the records – which were requested June 15 and returned about a month later by Elam campaign manager Matthew Chapman – was legal, but police officers should have been notified by June 19, 2006.
And since public safety officials say they did not receive notice until July 16, they were unable to notify officers. According to Wright's letter, this could comprise a violation of state law, which mandates officers be notified within three days of their information being released.
"In the particular situation in which we have found ourselves, even though police names and addresses were specifically excluded from the information requested by Mr. Chapman, the simple fact remains that this information was included on the list provided to Mr. Chapman," Wright wrote.
He goes on to say the custodian of personnel records – in this case Henderson – would still be liable for notifying officers because "the law does not provide for such a statutory exception to the notice requirement. … Failure to comply with the post-release procedural requirements could certainly constitute a violation of current state law."
Wright said his earlier comments, published in Monday's edition of The Lebanon Democrat, said only the release of the records themselves were legal, and his letter to the mayor and Council was a clarification.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston is seeking to censure Henderson in the wake of this and other incidents in the recent past, including the city's hiring of convicted felons against regulations and alleged failure to revise the city's Rules and Regulations "in a timely manner."
The City Council discovered the inadvertent release of officers' information at its July 18 meeting.
In a memorandum released to the Council on Tuesday, Henderson said his request to Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks to redact undercover police officers "served as a notice to the department head prior to the release of the names.
"(These points) are not made in an effort to deny or excuse my giving of the list to Mr. Chapman, for which I have accepted responsibility, but for the purpose of clarifying the steps in which they were given to him," Henderson said.
For his part, Weeks said he was not notified until about two days before the July 18 Council meeting.
"When we found out that the officers' information had been sent out … since the officers hadn't been notified, we immediately put something up to notify them," Weeks said, adding officers were told in a morning roll call meeting last Friday.
Fox reiterated his claim the proposed censure is a political maneuver. He also said he would have to investigate Wright's assertion for himself, saying Henderson did everything he could do to notify officers.
"He's talked to the city attorney and he's talked to the commissioner of public safety," Fox said. "Who else should he talk to? He's the personnel director."
Fox also questioned whether names and addresses constituted a review of records, but Wright said he found no "statutory or common law distinction between 'names and addresses' and 'personnel records,'" going on to cite case law which suggests the definition is broad to be all-encompassing.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at email@example.com.