City of Kenai v. Kenai Peninsula Newspapers was a 1982 case before the Alaska Supreme Court.
This case established two important precedents:
1.) The Alaska Public Records Act was designed to apply to municipalities as well as state institutions.
2.) When considering whether to grant an exemption, the courts must always weight the public benefit of disclosure against the justification and benefit to the city or individuals from non-disclosure.
- Kenai began a search for a new city manager in June of 1979. In the process of reviewing applications, the city met a number of times without notice, in closed meetings.
- The Peninsula Clarion, a newspaper within the Kenai Peninsula Newspapers, submitted a records request for the names and credentials of the individuals the city was considering.
- On August 2, 1979, the city rejected the request arguing that the release would violate the privacy of individuals and hinder future attempts to gather applicant information.
- The Kenai newspapers filed suit. The Trial court ruled in favor of the newspapers.
- Upon hearing the ruling, 10 of the remaining 32 applicants withdrew their application.
- The City appealed the ruling, arguing that the Alaska Public Records Act does not apply to municipalities.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the newspapers, ordering the release of the applications of all applicants who wished to remain in the running despite the release of their credentials.
The Court of appeals delivered a split decision and ordered the documents released but permitted the council to meet in closed session to discuss the applicants.
The court first established that the common law procedure prior to the passage of the Alaska Public Records Act was to permit inspection of all records, including municipality records, to any individual of interest and that the codification of the Alaska law did not intend to alter this precedent. The court grounded this assertion in a number of cases from other states, including, Mushet v. Department of Public Service of City of Los Angeles, Clement v. Graham, State ex rel. Wellford v. Williams, and State ex rel. Colescott v. King. The court went on to establish a balancing test, in order to determing if the public interest in disclosure outweighed the cities interest in non-disclosure. The court determined that the facts of the case favored disclosure because the public interest in insuring that an appropriate officer filled the position of city manager clearly outweighed the cities interest in gathering an appropriate applicant pool or the applicants interest in privacy. However, the court did find in the cities favor with regard to the Alaska Open Meetings Act which, according to the court, permits closed executive sessions for the discussion of material sensitive to the character of a person. Based on these facts, the court affirmed the order to release the documents and reversed the order requiring the city to only discuss the applicants in open meetings.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ruling of the Court