Idaho journalists take state’s Lt. Govervnor McGeachin to court over public records
(CN) — The Idaho Press Club is suing Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, claiming the state's executive second-in-command has been withholding records related to a feedback form on McGeachin’s creation of a controversial educational task force.
The non-profit association brought the 19-page lawsuit against McGeachin on Monday after the association claims that several public records requests by numerous journalists were denied complete access to a document tied to McGeachin’s move earlier this year to create an educational task force designed to “examine indoctrination in Idaho education and to protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism.”
Shortly after announcing the creation of the task force, which has come under fire by some in the Gem State who claim the task force is part of a far-right campaign to discredit public education efforts to teach racial issues with greater modern context, McGeachin sent out the Google Forms survey at the heart of Monday’s lawsuit. The form was reportedly used to solicit feedback from Idahoans regarding their thoughts on Idaho’s public education system and the creation of the task force.
According to the complaint, several journalists requested that McGeachin’s office turn over data from the feedback form under Idaho’s Public Records Act but those requests were either denied or improperly responded to.
The first and arguably most notable example of this came after Audrey Dutton, a reporter for the Idaho Capital Sun, sent in a request for the data in April. After being told that the data would need to be reviewed and partially redacted — as well being informed that the analysis would cost Dutton over $500 — the records were turned over the following month but with all of the feedback comments, names and email addresses removed.
Dutton tried to follow up with McGeachin’s office to ask why that information was redacted and to ensure that the analysis fee was properly calculated, but Dutton was reportedly told to redirect those questions to a law firm.
The day after Dutton received the redacted records, McGeachin took to social media to claim that the records request was an attempt to violate the privacy of those who engaged in the survey.
“Why does the media want YOUR personal information?” McGeachin wrote. “Do they plan to release it and encourage employers and government agencies to retaliate against Idahoans who have expressed concerns about Idaho’s education system? I believe that releasing this information would have a chilling effect on YOUR right to communicate your concerns to elected officials in Idaho.”
The complaint says other reporters also faced similar issues when requesting the same records. One reporter with IdahoEdNews was reportedly also told it would cost over $500 to have the records redacted only to never have those documents provided, while another reporter was told that the analyzing and redaction costs would total about $1,500.
While the lieutenant governor’s office says those redactions were put in place to protect respondents’ personal information, the Idaho Press Club says that none of the exemptions listed by her office applied to the documents being petitioned for.
The complaint also alleges that the records requests were not answered on time and takes issue with McGeachin’s social media posts that questioned why the reporters were wanting the information in the first place. Idaho law does allow agencies to ensure that anyone requesting documents will not use any of the information for mailing lists, but does not allow those agencies to question why the requests were made.
Idaho Press Club asks a judge to order McGeachin to either turn over the documents in their unredacted forms or, following a court’s review of the documents, give a proper explanation for McGeachin’s denials.
McGeachin’s office did not respond to requests for comment by press time Monday evening.