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Common Cause Maryland Calls On Town of Chevy Chase to Allow Public Access to Public Records

Press release issued April 30, 2014

The Town of Chevy Chase is stonewalling the public by charging hundreds of dollars for documents the law requires it to release, the Action Committee for Transit charged today.   Meanwhile, the Town has asked the state to waive all fees for the Town's request for public documents about transit supporters.

The Montgomery County transit advocacy group filed a request earlier this month for documents concerning the small, wealthy town's hiring of a lobbyist who is the brother of the House Transportation Committee chairman.

The lobbyist and his firm are being paid $350,000 to try to stop the Purple Line, a light rail line through the Maryland suburbs that would carry 74,000 riders a day.

A second request concerned the town's compliance with the training requirements of the Maryland Open Meetings Act. Last month a state agency found that the Town had violated this law. 

"Our transparency laws are the cornerstone of an effective democracy. Public business must be done in the public eye, and citizens must have access to records of those decisions," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland.   "We are concerned by a rising instance of high fees being used to effectively deny public access to public records, and call on the town of Chevy Chase to reconsider their fee determination.”

Both the Town and the activists filed requests under the Maryland Public Information Act, which allows waivers when the release of public records serves the public interest. The Town required payment of $825 for obtaining the documents. When ACT asked the Town to waive the fees, the Town said no.

But only a day before the Town's demand for money from ACT, the Town had asked the State of Maryland to waive any fees associated with the Town's request for records of communications between the state and 54 members of 3 different transit groups, including 3 Maryland elected officials.

"People shouldn't have to pay $825 to find out what government is doing with public money," said ACT's Miriam Schoenbaum. "It's not right. And it makes me wonder whether the town is trying to hide something."