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UMW HOLDS TIGHT TO RECORDING
University of Mary Washington won't release recording of president's emergency test call


Date published: 2/18/2010

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

The University of Mary Washington continues to deny The Free Lance-Star's request for a recording of UMW President Judy Hample's emergency test call to campus police last fall.

This week, Hample did not return a phone call asking her to reconsider the denial.

Instead, UMW spokesman George Farrar repeated the university's position that the state Freedom of Information Act allows it to keep the recording from the public because university officials consider it "evidence related to a criminal investigation."

Farrar also wrote in an e-mail that there is no criminal investigation going on now.

In addition to the audio recording, The Free Lance-Star this week requested video of the incident from a security camera at UMW's parking deck, where Hample made the call from a campus security phone.

Torre Meringolo, UMW's vice president for advancement and university relations, noted that campus police responded as if a crime were in progress. Hample's call, he said, "would've been evidence used in any criminal investigation, should it have gone further."

He said Hample was not under criminal investigation for the call, made during a campus safety walk Sept. 30.

Some in the college community have characterized Hample's test as filing a false report and said she jeopardized public safety.

Others applauded her efforts to gauge police response times.

Freedom of Information Act experts, including the executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, disagree with the university's interpretation of the law.

The advisory council is a state agency that gives opinions on FOIA matters to state and local government officials, citizen groups and the media. Executive Director Maria Everett called UMW's decision to withhold the record a "broad reading" of the law.

UMW is not legally required to withhold the record, even if it is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com