Addendum: When I filed this complaint, I did not know that the Public Information Act ombudsman had implemented a new policy in late summer 2017 requiring that anybody filing a complaint with her office sign a confidentiality agreement concerning her mediation. I had previously worked with her on a Public Information Act complaint where she had not required me to sign such a disclosure. I refused to sign it because I believed it would eliminate the one power she was granted to serve the public interest.
My reasoning was that the Maryland General Assembly created her office several years ago with essentially no legal enforcement powers. She cannot issue legal opinions, subpoena information, or impose any penalties for violating the Public Information Act. Her duties, in practice, amount to passing information back and forth between interested parties like a messenger boy. Sophisticated Public Information Act officers who understand her very limited powers treat her accordingly.
The situation is different for powerful special interests who can use a complaint filed with her office to both signal a credible threat to sue and create a subsequent paper trail in a court of law. But the Maryland General Assembly claimed that they created the ombudsman’s office for the average citizen, not the powerful who can credibly threaten to sue. For such citizens, her office harms the public interest because it wastes their time and saps their energy (it can take many, many months for the Kafkaesque communications that she mediates to take place). In this way, she functions as a tool to help governments trying to hide public information from citizens through the common tactic of raising citizens’ costs to protect their right-to-know.
One way to reduce the ombudsman’s structural bias to favor agencies over the average citizen would be to expose the ombudsman’s communications with both parties in a dispute to the court of public opinion. There, the public could see the pattern of government delay and noncompliance, which would apply a measure of accountability to the system. But eliminating any possibility of exposing the government’s record of non-compliance to the court of public opinion eliminates the possibility of such accountability; that is, it removes any opportunity for the ombudsman to serve as a support rather than yet another obstacle for the average citizen.
Until I saved the Ombudsman’s website on the Internet Archive/Wayback machine, there were no pages saved, presumably because her website was set to discourage search engines from scanning it.
More generally, the reporting system the Maryland General Assembly designed for the ombudsman is quite weak, as it creates strong incentives for smoke and mirrors reporting. My comment here has focused on only one aspect of that smoke & mirrors design.