Stormwater documents at center of executive privilege dispute

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has signed a bill that opens up more state records to public view.

But the state Agency of Natural Resources has so far not released the files that were at the center of the dispute.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Last year, the Agency of Natural Resources decided to keep secret dozens of records that related to a long-delayed stormwater program.

The agency told the Conservation Law Foundation that the documents were protected under a broad form of executive privilege. The agency said it needed to withhold the documents to protect the decision-making process within state government.

The Legislature intervened, and lawmakers approved a bill that does away with the new privilege claim.

The law takes effect in July. In the meantime, Natural Resources Secretary Tom Torti has not released the records.

Anthony Iarropino is with the Conservation Law Foundation.

(Iarropino) We were certainly disappointed that Secretary Torti chose not to give us the documents even after the governor signed the open government bill. Unfortunately, it seems he wanted to put technicalities ahead of the policy of openness that so many Vermonters embraced and supported and that the governor apparently endorsed when he signed the bill.

(Dillon) Torti says the documents issue is being handled by lawyers at the agency and at the attorney general’s office.

(Tortil) We’re reviewing our options now as it relates to those records. The discussion right now is between my legal staff and the attorneys that represent us.

(Dillon) And the agency secretary said he could not comment on when or if the records will eventually be released.

(Torti) I can’t, because the lawyers are discussing this. I’m constrained from offering an opinion or even projecting into the future.

(Dillon) But Iarropino says Torti clearly has the authority to release the records now. Iarropino pointed out that the secretary just last month decided to make public a document that he had initially claimed was protected.

(Iarropino) The secretary has at various times released the documents whenever he felt it was appropriate to do so, even after the lawsuit was pending. So I don’t see where there’s any obstacle at this point from him turning the documents over to us and letting the public get a look inside these secret files.

(Dillon) The Conservation Law Foundation will ask for the records again when the new law takes effect in July.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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