Judge: Name names, Coeur d’Alene

From the Coeur d’Alene Press
City must disclose first names of employees

COEUR d’ALENE — First names are a matter of public record, even if they reveal gender, First District Judge Charles Hosack ruled on Friday.

That means Wayne Hoffman will get the full names of every city of Coeur d’Alene employee as part of his public records request.

“Obviously, I’m pleased,” Hoffman said of the court’s decision. “It comes down to the basic right for the public to know how their cities operate.”

Hoffman, executive director for Idaho Freedom Foundation, requested the names and salaries for all of Coeur d’Alene’s 300-plus positions in July — as he’d done with other public entities across the state — for a Web site he said he created to promote transparency in government.

Coeur d’Alene complied with most of the request but only gave the first initial of each employee’s first name.

First names, the city argued, reveal gender, which is not a matter of public record.

Shortly after the city’s denial, Hoffman requested the first names of “gender neutral” first-name employees. The city complied, and provided him several of those.

Unsatisfied, Hoffman motioned for the rest of the records request.

In a 30-minute proceeding Friday, Hosack weighed both arguments, with Hoffman listening in via telephone from Boise, and attorney Michael Haman representing the city.

Although the city’s stance was a “common sense approach” to “conflicting statutes,” Hosack said, it was one that didn’t follow the letter of Idaho law.

“It’s not exactly clear how you would determine gender neutral,” he said. “It seems to me in this day and age what name generates what gender is not as clear as what it used to be. So that’s somewhat a subjective (stance). So that’s difficult.”

According to state statute 9-340C under the Idaho Public Records Law manual, records are reserved for a public servant’s employment history, classification, pay grade, salary and the like. Excluded from the public’s right to know is personnel information relating, but not limited to, info regarding sex, race, marital status, birth date and home address.

“The black and white requirement to disclose the name overrides the black and white requirement to not disclose the gender,” Hosack said. “I can’t figure out a way to allow the city of Coeur d’Alene to apply the test without making it a rule of law — a rule that would then require every other agency to do what the city of Coeur d’Alene is doing.”

Following the decision, City Attorney Mike Gridley said the city would not appeal, and that by allowing the court to decide what should and shouldn’t be allowed as public information with the conflicting codes was the best way to protect the city in the legal confusion.

“We accept the decision,” he said. “Obviously, (Hosack) stated he struggled with it a little bit. We just wanted to get a decision so we’re protected and nobody claims we violated the law.”

Hosack admitted he didn’t see the value of posting full names of city employees on the Web site — www.ouridaho.com — over posting the names and first initials, regardless of Hoffman’s claim it made tracking government employees and their salaries easier.

Haman also argued that information could be used for identity theft, which Hosack also said was plausible.

Still, Hosack said, the law is the law.

“The clear conflict raised by the fact that certain names disclose gender is a very legitimate point, but I don’t really have any way to balance that,” he said. “The Idaho law is pretty clear that the names have to be disclosed.”

Restitution is not sought.

The court will release the files to Hoffman upon his request, which he said he will do.

Hoffman said he’s happy the issue is resolved.

“We don’t want to get in trouble by violating the law that says don’t reveal gender,” Gridley said. “Now the court says, ‘it’s OK for you to do that.'”

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

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