Thursday, February 11, 2016

Letters Extra: Calibrating openness with care

The city's release of documents reflect a balancing of interests consistent with our practice not to interfere with formal public investigations where criminal guilt or civil liability is at stake.

Letters Extra: Calibrating openness with care


Soon after the June 5 building collapse at 22d and Market Streets, attorneys for the victims, the property owners, the city, and the District Attorney's Office visited the site, seeking to prevent further harm, preserve it, and determine whether a criminal investigation was needed. When the District Attorney's Office that day requested it, the city agreed not to release collapse-related documents ("Mayor still holding back on collapse information," July 21).

Subsequently, the city received 30 open-records requests (from media and non-media sources) for these documents. Keeping its promise to District Attorney Seth Williams, the city denied these requests, while seeking written confirmation from Williams. We maintained this stance until July 12, when I received a letter from First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr.

The city's release of documents last Friday and its refusal to allow city officials to be interviewed by City Council or by the media reflect a balancing of interests consistent with our practice not to interfere with formal public investigations where criminal guilt or civil liability is at stake. The city will also continue to invoke its legal right to protect documents that the court has concluded need not be released for public review.

The Inquirer's Sunday editorial perpetuates the fallacy that the only public interest at stake, and to which we must react, is the one defined by the media.

A more objective examination of the circumstances - which The Inquirer has eschewed in favor of a month-long tantrum - would reveal the public interest here is indeed much broader.

Shelley R. Smith, City Solicitor, Philadelphia

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