Public records offices that have gone above and beyond

Here are the agencies that MuckRock users and readers were particularly thankful for this year.

Written by Michael Morisy
Edited by JPat Brown

It’s easy to focus on the challenges of public records, but behind every successful request is somebody who helped fulfill it - often with very few resources, a challenging balance of priorities, and a desire to help share their work with the public.

For the second year in a row, we asked MuckRock users and readers to submit their examples of when agencies went above and beyond in fulfilling public records requests, and we got back some great stories.

We also tallied up how often MuckRock users used the “Thanks” feature to tell an agency that they appreciate their work. Below, three of our favorite stories plus which agencies received the most plaudits for a job well done.

Bellmead Police Department’s Darron Killingsworth is “always professional” — with some unusually fast responses

One reader wrote in to note that thoughtfulness from public records officers could go a long way, praising the work of Bellmead Police Department’s Darron Killingsworth in Bellmead, TX.

I sent him a request for public information at 11:20 and he responded with responsive information attached in .PDF format at 11:54. I have made in person requests of Mr. Killingsworth and he has always been professional. He actually thinks about the request and often makes simple requests available without payment. Mr. Killingsworth is a true public servant who has a keen understanding of the law. He is a role model for how it should be done.

Karen Richman of the U.S. Navy helped narrow down a challenging request

Requests to the military can be particularly sensitive, but many FOIA officers go above and beyond the call of duty to help requesters get what they actually want from the agency.

A reader writes in:

Karen Richman went above and beyond to help me obtain documents related to the death of an Army Specialist. She was detailed in helping me break down the charges associated with the request and also go through the documents with me over the phone so I could eliminate and be more specific with what I was looking for. She also made it possible to obtain the documents electronically, resulting in no charges for them.

Wisconsin’s corporation counsels help avoid lawsuits while releasing important documents

Agencies often have a tough time balancing legitimate needs to keep some information secret with the public’s right to know. One reader said that legal counsel in Wisconsin often helped keep that balance in check:

For Thanksgiving, I want to say thank you to the office of “”corporation counsel”“.

I am not sure if they are called corporation counsel in other states, but in Wisconsin they are the equivalent of a county’s in-house counsel. I have made multiple requests to police departments over the years and been turned down flat for a variety of reasons (the most common being “”ongoing investigation”“). By contacting the corporation counsel, or CC’ing them from the beginning, in every single case I was able to get a sealed file released in full without having to file a suit.

Thanks to the corporation counsel, I could argue (politely) for the record’s value as a public or historical document and how that outweighs the department’s need for secrecy. If the corporation counsel agrees (and they always have thus far), they advise the department to release the file. It’s a great “”back door”” to get around stubborn agencies and avoid costly legal fees.”

Many jobs well done

Over the past year, MuckRock users have helped released almost half a million pages of government documents. That’s a lot of successful requests, and just a little over a year ago we rolled out our “Thank an agency” feature. Since then, MuckRock users have sent 385 “Thank You” messages to 295 different agencies, ranging from the Air Force and FBI to the Kalamazoo County Clerk’s Office.

Our most thanked agencies were the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chicago Police Department, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The full top ten, and how often they were thanked, are below, or you can download the full list of thanks agencies in a CSV here .

  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States of America, 11
  2. Chicago Police Department, Chicago, 9
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration, United States of America, 7
  4. Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, Massachusetts, 4
  5. Department of Defense Inspector General, United States of America, 4
  6. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Massachusetts, 4
  7. Stockton Police Department, Massachusetts, 3
  8. Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, Washington, 3
  9. Boston Mayor’s Office, Massachusetts, 3
  10. Food and Drug Administration, United States of America, 3

Image via Wikimedia Commons