County eases limits on access to Turf Valley files

August 30, 2006|by a sun reporter

The Department of Planning and Zoning has modified a policy that required the public to file a Freedom of Information Act request when seeking information or access to files regarding Turf Valley, the planned community in western Ellicott City.

Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the department, said instead the public need only to make an appointment with her administrative aide to review the files or obtain copies of documents.

"My intent is to ensure that you and other members of the public have full access to all available information about the various Turf Valley files, in a manner that allows us to ensure the integrity of the files, provides you with accurate responses to any questions, and minimizes the demand on DPZ staff resources, which are already stretched to meet their many responsibilities," McLaughlin said in an e-mail to Marc Norman, a critic of the planned expansion of Turf Valley.

Norman said the revision is unsatisfactory and again accused the department of trying to restrict access to public information

"They're working so hard at keeping us out of their files and out of their office that they are creating all this work," he said.

Norman also criticized coverage of the issue, saying, "The truth is not being presented clearly" by The Sun.

The department's policy was restricted to Turf Valley.

McLaughlin said the initial policy was imposed because "the Turf Valley development is currently in litigation and we're having a great deal of difficulty keeping the file intact. We're also having two other problems: Many, many staff members, primarily within DPZ, but also in DPW are being asked verbal questions. Sometimes, the person being approached is not knowledgeable about the inquiry. This can result in either inaccurate information being inadvertently given out, or a great deal of time wasted trying to track down what the correct question is."

A lawsuit was filed last week in Circuit Court challenging the policy requiring a Freedom of Information request before files could be reviewed.

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