Friday, May 9, 2008

Boise business owner awarded open government award


Curtis Massood, owner of Canyon Outdoor Media, has been named the winner of the 2008 Max Dalton Open Government Award sponsored by the Idaho Newspaper Foundation.

Massood earned the award and an accompanying cash prize of $2,000 for his successful lawsuit against Ada County in which a judge said the county's e-mail storage system made it inaccessible for the average citizen. Massood has donated the prize to The Shepherd's Home, a children's group shelter in McCall.

The Max Dalton Open Government Award has been given each year since 1999 to a citizen or group judged to be an outspoken advocate of openness in either public records or public meetings on the state or local level.

Massood wanted to erect a billboard on land near Meridian. County officials denied his application, so he filed a request for copies of e-mail correspondence between county employees and other public agencies about his case.

The county then sent Massood a bill for $5,685.12—the cost, it claimed, of retrieving the records. He paid the requested amount and a month later, Ada County notified Massood that he needed to pay another $164,700 for additional work.


The county argued the cost was necessary because of the method used to store about 90,000 e-mails each day—on backup tapes—which required extensive manpower to search and would require review by an attorney at a cost of $60 per hour.

Massood filed suit, and 4th District Judge Kathryn Sticklen ruled late last year that Ada County's e-mail storage system had, in effect, made public records inaccessible, and the astronomical fee was far out of reach of the average citizen. The county was ordered to return a portion of the money Massood had already paid, as well as produce the requested records.

"Curtis Massood has done an incredible service to the citizens of Ada County by ensuring the spirit of the Idaho Public Records Act is fulfilled," Idaho Newspaper Foundation Executive Director Tom Grote of McCall said. "Because he chose to make a significant investment of his own time and money, Mr. Massood has made a significant stride to ensure average citizens are not discouraged from obtaining the public records that are rightfully theirs under state law."

Max D. Dalton was killed at age 78 in November 1997 by squatters on his ranch in Costa Rica. Dalton had spent most of his life in Idaho where he operated a Meridian milk-testing business. In 1981, Dalton filed a public records lawsuit that resulted in a 1984 landmark Idaho Supreme Court ruling, "Dalton vs. Idaho Dairy Products Commission," which reinforced the right of every Idaho citizen to have swift, convenient access to state records.

In the years since the Dalton decision, the state's public records law has become undermined with scores of loopholes requested by special interests, state agencies and city and county governments. By honoring those who emulate Max Dalton's example, the foundation hopes more citizens will take personal action against needless government secrecy in Idaho, Grote said.

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