Municipality of Anchorage v. Anchorage Daily News was a case before the Alaska Supreme Court in 1990 concerning open records for non-governmental advisory committees. It was actually the collection of 3 cases which all centered around open records disputes between the municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage Daily News. The focus of the records disputes were the records of the Mayor's "Blue Ribbon Panel" and the Anchorage Library Advisory Board.
1.) This case established that bodies which are supported by public funds and created to serve a governmental function are in fact arms of the agencies which they serve and are subject to records requests.
2.) This case also established that public agencies may only take deposition from individuals requesting public records in order to determine the public interest in the record if the agency has already proven that the record in question is exempt from the law.
- S-2647, Concerning the records of the Anchorage Library Advisory Board:
- In November of 1987, the board met to evaluate the performance of the Head Librarian
- Based on the findings in this meeting, the board prepared a confidential evaluation and submitted it to the mayor
- The mayor refused to release the report to the newspaper.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the newspaper and the report was released.
- The city appealed the decision arguing that the report was confidential and that the Head Librarian should have been notified prior to the release
- S-3033, Concerning the records of the "Blue Ribbon Panel"
- The Mayor created the "Blue Ribbon Fiscal Policy Committee" and ordered it with the task of developing a report on the economic condition of Anchorage. It was comprised of local citizens appointed by the mayor.
- The newspaper requested to final report submitted by the committee. The mayor denied the request.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the newspaper and ordered the document released.
- The Mayor appealed the decision, claiming that the panel was not an agency of the municipality.
- S-3076, Concerning the deposition of newspaper employees
- After receiving the request and being notified that the newspaper was filing suit in order to obtain the Blue Ribbon Panel's report, the Municipality ordered the deposition of a number of newspaper employees, in order to interview them about the case.
- The superior court upheld the disposition.
- The newspaper appealed the decision claiming that depositions should not be required by individuals submitting open records requests.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the newspaper and ordered the release of all the records. In its decision, it relied on an injunction issued in 1985, which mandated that the Municipality of Anchorage and its agencies make available "all documents, files and records, including drafts" with only narrowly construed exceptions.
The Supreme Court went on to affirm the decision of the superior court with regard to the records but overturn the decision with regard to the depositions. It first and foremost rejected the courts use of the 1985 injunction to mandate the release of the records. It then went on to consider each case separately.
The court affirmed the trial courts decision and held that the report of the Anchorage Advisory Library Board was in fact a public record. It concurred with the trial court in it's determination that the board was a public agency and that it was acting in an official capacity when it made the report. It went on to establish, citing City of Kenai v. Kenai Peninsula Newspapers, that employee evaluations are subject to records requests, where the public interest in the employee's performance outweighs the employee's desire for privacy. The court determined that because the Head Librarian had a large staff and was responsible for a sizeable amount of spending, the public interest in his performance was high. Based on this, the court ordered the release of the records.
The court again affirmed the decision of the trial courts, asserting that the panel was in fact a public body because it was supported by public funds and was created to perform a governmental function. The court went on to rejects the mayor's claim for an executive deliberative process, deciding that the documents in question were produced for the public during open meetings and intended for public dissemination. Their release would not in any way hamper candid discussion within the executive office. Due to these considerations the court decided not to rule on the existence of an executive deliberative process privilege for municipalities. (It later decided this issue in Fuller v. City of Homer)
The court overturned this decision of the superior court, claiming that a municipality may not depose individuals in order to determine the public interest, unless it has first proven that there are legal grounds for withholding the documents. The balancing test only applies if the public agency has met the burden of proof and established that an exemption exists for the documents in question.