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HCDC Loses Appeal On Its Failure to Comply with Open Records Laws

By Keith Burton - Filed 4/12/04 updated 4/22/04*

A Harrison County judge has ruled against a rehearing requested by the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC) that the agency failed to comply with the state’s Open Records laws.

In a ruling issued April 9, Chancery Court Judge James Persons ruled that the HCDC willfully erred in not allowing Pass Christian resident Henry (Tut) Kinney access to the agency’s records and charging him an improper fee of $65 an hour for staff costs.

In the ruling, the HCDC argued that the fee was unilaterally implemented by the HCDC’s director, Michael Olivier on the recommendations of the agency's attorney. The judge ruled that Olivier did not have the authority to make such a rule.

“Moreover, the Court finds that the evidence does not establish that Kinney’s requests to inspect HCDC records were intended to harass the HCDC or its staff, even though his requests may have been burdensome or annoying,” reads the judges ruling.

Persons also denied the HCDC’s defense position that the agency had acted on the legal advice of its attorneys and shouldn’t be held in bad faith. The court found that the advice was clearly “contrary to the plain language” of the state’s Open Records Act.

Judge Persons restated in his latest ruling his previous ruling that the HCDC willfully and knowingly denied Kinney access to public records.

In the previous ruling issued February 11, Judge Persons ordered the HCDC to turn over within 30 days numerous records, including financial records connected to the Commission's director, Michael Olivier. These records include credit card receipts, Olivier’s salary details and reimbursements, and payments made to Olivier.

Among the records Kinney wanted were credit card receipts showing entertainment purchases by Olivier and the Commission. In those receipts, the HCDC first concealed the names of people entertained. The judge ruled that the names will have to be revealed.

“The names of the persons entertained by Olivier in the course of his employment by HCDC and for which he was reimbursed cannot be considered as information of a proprietary nature belonging to Olivier,” said the judge in his February ruling.

The court also ordered the HCDC to pay $2,205 in additional costs to Kinney for his expenses in the HCDC appeal.

Kinney is represented by Gulfport attorney Reilly Morse.

*Note: Update clarifies in the story that the latest ruling in the case was a denial by the judge to rehear or reconsider his earlier ruling against the HCDC as requested by the HCDC and not technically an appeal to a higher court.


Related:

Guest Opinion - Out of the Darkness - A Call for Accountability at the HCDC - by Reilly Morse

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