BILLINGS (AP) - The Billings Gazette is suing the city of Billings, demanding it release documents in a dispute between the city administrator and police chief.
The newspaper contends in its lawsuit filed Monday in District Court that the documents are public information and that the city has wrongly kept them secret.
The newspaper filed two public disclosure requests with the city in June, seeking copies of all documents related to the dispute between City Administrator Kristoff Bauer and Police Chief Ron Tussing. Tussing has filed a grievance against the city and said he is fighting to keep his job.
Last month, the police chief waived his right to privacy and gave the newspaper a copy of his recent performance review that Bauer prepared. In the review, Bauer criticized Tussing's leadership style and warned him to curb his sarcasm.
Bauer also warned Tussing that discussing his performance review with anyone but the city administrator would be considered insubordination.
The city responded to the newspaper's first request by releasing three pages of documents in July showing that the city paid a mediator from Helena nearly $1,000 to meet with Tussing and Bauer.
The city later released a copy of the mediation agreement signed by Bauer, Tussing and the mediator, Jacqueline Gibson. In a letter to the Gazette's lawyer, City Attorney Brent Brooks said he was prevented by state law from releasing any other documents.
''We believe the public's right to know extends a lot further than that,'' said Steve Prosinski, editor of The Billings Gazette. ''These are public documents and we hope that this action leads to the public getting the information it deserves.''
Bauer has previously declined to discuss the dispute.
Brooks has previously said the city cannot release the documents the newspaper is requesting without a court order.
In one letter to the newspaper, Brooks said the city could release documents related to the mediation between Bauer and Tussing only if the two city officials and the mediator agreed to waive a confidentiality agreement. State law requires that such mediation documents remain confidential, Brooks said.
In its lawsuit, the newspaper contends that the state law regarding the confidentiality of mediation cannot be used to shield public officials from conducting government business in public.
The state law regarding the confidentiality of mediation documents applies only to the mediator's notes and statements made during the mediation, according to the lawsuit. Any other documents created by the city and provided to the mediator are not confidential, the newspaper said.
Only Tussing has a right to privacy regarding the documents about his job performance, the lawsuit states. Since Tussing has waived his right to privacy, the documents should be made public, the newspaper contends.