Candidate Records Release

1 sheriff’s candidate releases personnel file, 1 blocked by City of Columbus
By: 
Marlo Pronovost

SCN Photo by Marlo Pronovost

Stillwater County Sheriff's candidate Chip Kem's personnel file.

Although both candidates for Stillwater County Sheriff have consented to opening their personnel files for transparency purposes, only one has produced.

Chip Kem turned over his personnel file to the News on Tuesday afternoon.

After a week of back and forth communication with candidate Gary Timm, he also consented to releasing his file, but Columbus City Attorney Doug Howard is refusing to release it without a court order — saying the file is property of the city and no one’s personnel file would be released without a court order.

According to Mike Meloy, a Freedom of Information attorney in Helena, an employee can release their own personnel file.

PROCESS

In a list of candidate questions sent to Timm and Kem, both were asked the following by the News: “Would you be willing to open your personnel files in the name of transparency for the voters, as transparency is a big issue for public officials. The top law enforcement officer in the county is certainly a position in which this is important.”

Kem’s response was immediate.

“Absolutely! Consider this written permission for Sheriff Brophy and Stillwater County Human Resources to provide you with any and all information in my file,” Kem wrote in an email.

The file was given to the News Tuesday afternoon.

Timm responded as follows in an email:

“I believe in transparency when it comes to law enforcement. One’s personnel file cannot ‘just’ be released to the public as one would believe. State law may prohibit it, and a department cannot give up another’s right to privacy that may be included in a person’s personnel file. If anyone has a question, I would be glad to answer it.”

The News responded by telling Timm those privacy issues could be avoided by him redacting — or blacking out — information relating to anyone else. Timm responded as follows:

“Per the chief of police, the city attorney advises no part of an employee’s personnel file can be released without a court order,” Timm wrote in another email.

On Monday, April 23, Timm gave his consent.

“In regards to me releasing my personal file, I have no problem in doing so as long no person’s right to privacy is violated. Per Chief Ward, all subject matter in regards to that will go through him,” Timm wrote in an email to the News.

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