Thursday, August 1, 2019

Fulfilling FOIA Requests Is 'Disruptive,' Says Public Library Director

Fulfilling FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests is "disruptive," says St. Mary's County Library Director Michael Blackwell: "My time is valuable.  I am not inclined to disrupt other library operations by giving it away."  Maryland Public Information Act compliance is part of a public servant's job—it's not a "disruption."  This public servant has open hostility to the law.

Further, he will not waive fees for me to report publicly on his possible facilitation of so-called "Drag Queen Story Hour," and will instead charge me $50 an hour, basically ensuring I will refuse to pay the price and the public will not get the public records.  (Someone want to start a GoFundMe page for this?)

Now this is a matter where a man has been charged with trespass for attempting to attend a public meeting in a public library that the library director said was private, where the library director may have lied to the County Commissioners—that's part of what I am investigating, and where the county government has ordered the library to pay for security services that were used essentially to put on a circus in a matter that may have been illegal in the first place.  The ACLU and secular humanists are threatening to sue the county government as a result.  So this is a matter of great public interest, I am a reporter digging for information to shed light on what happened, and the library director—who may be part of the problem—is suppressing production of public documentation by charging me what is certain to amount to hundreds of dollars, perhaps even a thousand.

And this is not the first arrest of a patron under Michael Blackwell's watch.  It is now a pattern.  I suspect it is part of the circus he puts on to help promote what the library is doing.  Let's look at this in Michael's own words as he gleefully promotes what he has done and reports 23 May 2017 to thousands of ALA librarians, even with details about the arrest:
Hi, Michael Blackwell, Director of St Mary's County Library here. Thanks to all for your kind words of support for our library. I am very proud of our Trustees and staff for standing strong in a challenge that threatened First Amendment rights to assemble and engage in free speech. We took no stand on the program itself: it is not a library program. Our concern is fair use of our meeting rooms. [Teens attending said they greatly enjoyed the program, however, and found it more honest and informative than anything they learned in school.] We are glad that except for one person who chose to be arrested (she is 55 but claimed to "self-identify" as 17 in order to gain access to the teen-only event, and refused offers to attend the open forum, go into the library, or even just leave), the event was peaceful and both sides of the controversy could express their views as they saw fit outside the library. Freedom to assemble and educate won that day. May they always. 
[Source.  Notably, the librarians to whom he reported commented to attack me personally and wished I would die in a cruel and unusual fashion.  It's no wonder the director is hostile to me.]
Whatever, see his response for yourself, and see my original FOIA request to which he responded, both below.

Just remember, my experience tells me 90% of libraries respond in a timely and substantive manner to FOIA requests, and of the 10% that do not, 100% have something to hide, are hiding it, and it eventually comes out.  So as far as St. Mary's County Library goes, open government laws are "disruptive" and will be ignored—it's hiding something.

And no, I did not imply he was destroying documents, only to be aware that American Library Association 1) uses personal emails for work reasons, illustrating that librarians use personal emails for work reasons so they are subject to FOIA as well, and 2) orders librarians to destroy documents precisely to defeat FOIA responses.  Since St. Mary's County Library librarians are communicating directly with ALA, like children's librarian Tess Goldwasser who wrote for ALA how to "sneakily" push an agenda on children and for which a County Commissioner called her a "liar," it is highly likely they are being told how to subvert FOIA laws as this is an established pattern of ALA.  The library trustees should be aware of this so they can prevent it.  But, based on the library director's open hostility to me and defiance of the open government law, it is more likely we will pitch in on the effort to hide documentation.  The unprofessional hostility and the charging of a huge fee to a member of the media is just part of that effort.

By the way, I will amend my FOIA request to ameliorate his concerns for now, but I may raise them again in the future.  Still, it's shocking to see a library director so blatantly say open government laws can go to hell.

Library Director's Response:

Re: FOIA Request - St. Mary's County Library - #01

From: Michael Blackwell Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 4:36 PM

To: Safe Libraries
Cc: "" , smclboard , Joshua Brewster

Dear Mr. Kleinman,

Fulfilling these requests will require substantial time and effort.

Under Maryland law, you are granted two hours of library time to fulfil [sic] you [sic] requests. After that, we may, and will, charge.  I do not waive fees.  After two hours, I shall charge you $50 per hour.  This is a fair and reasonable rate, for I am our Public Information Officer and responsible for all such requests and must attend to them personally. No documents will be provided to you after the two free hours of time spent searching, redacting the records to be in compliance with Maryland’s strict privacy laws, and preparing the records to be sent to you, until payment is received. Keep in mind that the information you seek involves me searching all emails to and from all St. Mary’s County Library employees—simply making queries to the whole lot and reviewing results to determine relevance takes substantial time. I shall tell you what each reply would cost and send them once payment is received.

I will happily negotiate with you through Maryland’s PIO Ombudsman, who will ensure that our dealings are fair. Let me know if you wish to exercise this option.

I have copied our attorney, Joshua Brewster, and request that any correspondence from you include him.

Your implication that I would destroy or withhold any records if so directed by the American Library Association is offensive. I am well aware of my duties, which [sic] require me to redact or withhold records as required by Maryland law (and not an outside agency) but never to destroy them. I have, furthermore, never received any such request from the American Library Association.

I will tell you upfront that point # 3 will get you nothing.  I have never received any communication in the period you mention, or any other period for that matter, from Leonardtown PFLAG. I doubt any of our employees will have received any such communication related to this matter in this time frame.

Since any communications on points 1 – 5, exclusive of #3 as already discussed, would have been addressed to me or to an online system for reserving meeting rooms, or involve payments made to us, I can probably prepare responses to them in two hours.  I offer you those, even if they exceed two hours. All other requests would require much more time.  If you do not wish points 1, 2, 4, and 5 addressed, as I have offered, I suggest you prioritize other requests and be prepared to pay.  My time is valuable.  I am not inclined to disrupt other library operations by giving it away.

Michael Blackwell
Director, St Mary’s County Library
23250 Hollywood Road
Leonardtown, MD 20650
301-475-2846 x5013

Original FOIA Request:

FOIA Request - St. Mary's County Library - #01

From: Safe Libraries Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 3:35 PM

To: smclboard
Cc:, Michael Blackwell ,

Dear St. Mary’s County Library Board of Trustees,

This is a FOIA request.  Under the Maryland Public Information Act Title 4, I request copies of public records.

Please waive all fees since the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of how the library is managed and whether it acts in compliance with the law and its own policies.  This has become a concern ever since the County Commissioners have acted to require the library trustees to pay for police services provided to the library board so that it could facilitate a so-called “Drag Queen Story Hour” on June 23, 2019.  It raises the issue that the library may have acted outside the law, and the County Commissioners acted to force compliance with the law.  I have been reporting on libraries violating various laws and policies for almost two decades and this request is related to news gathering purposes.  This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.  Should you refuse to provide free records to the media for disclosure to the public in a noncommercial fashion, then if there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $25.

The Maryland Public Information Act requires a response to this request within 30 days.  If the records I am requesting for ultimate public disclosure will take longer than this amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies of the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Thank you for considering my request.

Here are the documents for which copies are requested, all limited in scope to 2019 unless otherwise stated, and keep in mind County Times reported on 27 June 2019, page 3, “Blackwell confirmed that the two non-profits eventually rented the space, making it a private event”:

1) All documents to or from SMASH (Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists) or any of its representatives or anyone claiming to represent SMASH.

2) All documents to or from WASH (Washington Area Secular Humanists) or any of its representatives or anyone claiming to represent WASH.

3) All documents to or from PFLAG of Leonardtown (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) or any of its representatives or anyone claiming to represent PFLAG of Leonardtown.

4) All applications made for use of the public meeting room, limited to those that set up “Drag Queen Story Hour.”

5) All payments made to the library for the use of the public meeting room for “Drag Queen Story Hour”

6) All documentation of communications about “Drag Queen Story Hour” with the American Library Association, and especially ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

7) All documentation of communications about “Drag Queen Story Hour” with the American Library Association, and especially ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

8) All documentation of communications by children’s librarian Tess Goldwasser with the American Library Association, and especially ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, during 2019 and during 2017.

9) All documentation of policies relating to performing background checks on people presenting programs at the library, whether sponsored by the library or by someone who arranged for use of the public meeting room.

10) All documentation of the results of said background checks having been performed.

Where emails are involved, also provide the BCC as well as the CC and the TO. As you know, BCC is for the convenience of the sender, not for circumventing public information laws. If senders/recipients include distribution lists the library created, then please provide the document that lists the individual recipient email addresses in any distribution list; again, distribution lists are for the convenience of the sender, not for circumventing the law. Further, if library business has been conducted via the use of personal emails or text messages—even on personal phones, then please provide those emails and text messages as well. Conducting library business on personal emails or phones is not a valid means for circumventing MPIA.

Any document written or recorded is included as well. That includes voice mails, audio recordings, transcripts or minutes of any public meeting. Library board executive session recordings or minutes are not included in my request if they have not already been made public.

Written or recorded documents also include those made in any telephonic, electronic, or physical meeting with anyone acting on behalf of any library association such as the American Library Association. ALA trains librarians that written or recorded documents from ALA-provided trainings, meetings, conferences, etc., are ALA proprietary and may not be released publicly. That ALA claim is false. MPIA controls, not ALA. If a public employee attended anything at public expense, then anything learned/recorded at such an event or as a result thereof has been made public and is discoverable under MPIA no matter what ALA claims. The public has a right to know what business has been conducted at public expense.

Be clear ALA top leadership uses personal email to direct librarians to destroy public documents precisely to prevent production under state sunshine laws like MPIA. Example from the private email of the current Interim Director and Deputy Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Esq., of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom: “Subject: URGENT -­ must delete all documents related to 17 Dec crisis communications workshop .… Remove these from your servers today and destroy hard copies. This is an attempt by two individuals to obtain privileged information …. we cannot allow anything from 17 Dec to be produced in response to FOIA.” Source published here:
“Librarians Ordered to Destroy Public Documents Revealing Homophobia at American Library Association and Crime in Libraries,” by Dan Kleinman, SafeLibraries, 26 April 2018,

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

Source of County Times article cited:

[NOTE: If any librarian wishes to contact me privately/confidentially, perhaps to provide some of this documentation, use]


Dan Kleinman
SafeLibraries® brand library educational services
641 Shunpike Rd #123
Chatham, NJ 07928


I amended my FOIA request, and the library director responded again, again with the nastiest, most unprofessional manner possible, actually telling me he won't read any more of my messages, yet he is the person responsible for FOIA requests!  He even implied I was unreasonable.  And he's going to make me wait a full 30 days before he will deny almost everything I requested.  So much for freedom of information.

In all my years of filing FOIA requests on libraries, most are fine, some are contentious yet professional, but none are ever this outright nasty.  When this man appeared before the County Commissioners, he presented as the friendliest of men who would never hurt a fly.  The reality is a major eye opener.  He's hiding something.  And he's hiding it from the public.

My Amended FOIA Request:

Dear St. Mary’s County Library Director Blackwell,

In light of your response to my FOIA request, I hereby amend my initial request to the following, dropping 6-10 and amending 3 to add PFLAG national, and as before, just during 2019:

1) All documents to or from SMASH (Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists) or any of its representatives or anyone claiming to represent SMASH.

2) All documents to or from WASH (Washington Area Secular Humanists) or any of its representatives or anyone claiming to represent WASH.

3) All documents to or from PFLAG of Leonardtown and PFLAG national (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) or any of its representatives or anyone claiming to represent PFLAG of Leonardtown and PFLAG national.

4) All applications made for use of the public meeting room, limited to those that set up “Drag Queen Story Hour.”

5) All payments made to the library for the use of the public meeting room for “Drag Queen Story Hour”

Given the amended request, it appears no fee will be due, and there will be no need for the services of Maryland’s PIO Ombudsman.

I may raise the removed public document requests again if I raise enough money to pay the fee you require but MPIA law does not, so do not allow them to be deleted in the interim.  It’s interesting that an investigative reporter would be charged such fees in light of your own complaint of having been charged fees by your county government.  It smacks of a double standard, let alone disdain for open government laws.

Also, please note I have published the following newsworthy report:
Thank you.

Dan Kleinman

The Unprofessional Library Director's Unprofessional Response:

Dear Sir,

I have no interest in your posts and will not bother to consult them.  You may post my entire email for all I care. Reasonable people will understand my position.

Please be aware of the following:
Maryland Code, General Provisions § 4-308 
(a) Subject to subsection (b) of this section, a custodian shall prohibit inspection, use, or disclosure of a circulation record of a public library or any other item, collection, or grouping of information about an individual that: 
(1) is maintained by a library; 
(2) contains an individual's name or the identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual;  and 
(3) identifies the use a patron makes of that library's materials, services, or facilities. 
(b) A custodian shall allow inspection, use, or disclosure of a circulation record of a public library only: 
(1) in connection with the library's ordinary business;  and 
(2) for the purposes for which the record was created.
I am prohibited by Maryland law from disclosing any record of any transaction at the library involving an individual. If an individual member of SMASH or PFLAG has made any request of the library, including use of its meeting rooms, I am prohibited from disclosing it and I shall not. The Maryland Public Information Ombudsman will confirm my reading of the law.

I shall review library records to see if SMASH or PFLAG as a group has corresponded with or made requests of us.

Applications for our meeting rooms are made via online registration and are simply confirmed or denied. I can confirm any uses of the meeting room by SMASH or PFLAG from January 1 through today’s date.

I can confirm the date and amount of any payment for reserving our meeting room on June 23rd.  If the payment was made by an individual, I am prohibited from disclosing that record itself but can send information about our processing of the payment.

You will have my response to your request by 30 days, August 31st.

In the interim, I shall not respond to communications from you.


I have filed a second FOIA on the library and have published it here:


Today I received a substantive response to this FOIA request and I now consider it closed.  Below is that response and accompanying explanatory email.  I have no open FOIA requests with the library at this time.

From the provided documentation, I found the following is troubling:

Michael Blackwell says, "Our meeting rooms have been, and will remain, open to all.  Our policy is firmly grounded in First Amendment rights—rights we are proud to stand for.  We remain, as much as any organization can be, apolitical (as Maryland law on libraries clearly establishes) and eager to serve all."
  1. The meeting room was not open to all and indeed a man was arrested after he entered the room.  Michael Blackwell even sat in the front room of the trial of the man.  The meeting rooms are not open to all.  And if I recall, the police blocked the man from attending saying this room was privately rented, and the FOIA response contains a transfer of $100 for room rental.
  2. First Amendment rights are nice but public libraries may restrict certain things despite the First Amendment, as proven by US v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194 (2003).  The law that created that library requires the library "benefit" the people, as shown in the response to my second FOIA request, and gender theory is harmful and thus not allowed in the library, despite the First Amendment, just like in the US v. ALA case where Internet pronography was involved—legal outside the library, just not inside.
  3. The library does not stand for First Amendment rights.  Libraries routinely block materials and even people and groups that they view as false or as hate groups.  A number of law suits have gone against the libraries that do this, but it doesn't stop the vast majority.  For example, to this day, positive books about ex-gays or reparative therapy are routinely censored, only the librarians call it "selection," not censorship.  Somehow such books are never selected.  Adherence to the First Amendment is selective and selectively applied.
  4. The library is not "apolitical."  First, its own children's librarian Tess Goldwasser coordinated with ALA to provide training to librarians nationwide on how to "sneakily" push ALA's agenda into public libraries.  Second, ALA's top goal, its stated top goal, is so-called "social justice."  That is to be pushed into libraries nationwide, and the library's own Tess Goldwasser is helping to do that.  Third, the "apolitical" language to which the library director refers pertains to how the County Commissioners must by law deal with the library board of trustees, it does not refer to the library itself.  So the library director is misleading here.  This library is extremely political and is partly responsible for "sneakily" pushing things that violate the library law into the library notwithstanding the law.
  5. Eager to serve all?  Let me remind everyone of the title of this publication: "Fulfilling FOIA Requests Is 'Disruptive,' Says Public Library Director."
Then there's this statement that's at least eyebrow raising: "Officially, we must remain neutral on the event."  That likely explains a number of things, including the pretty good language below.

The following is pretty good:

Michael Blackwell states to the people who rented the room for the event, 
Your statement that "The undersigned write to advise ... the Library of their obligations..." is ... unwarranted and offensive, especially in light of the attacks that the library and I myself have undergone defending SMASH and PFLAG's use of our meeting room. I have spent quite enough time being taken to task from callers across this county and Canada and being bashed like a PiƱata in public meetings and letters to local media simply for standing up for the fair use of our meeting rooms to establish my commitment to Maryland law and the First Amendment, thank you.
Lastly, here is the payment for the room, and it appears PayPal ate some of the library's fees, by the way, but I digress:

Below is the substantive FOIA response including the attached document.

Substantive FOIA Response:

FOIA Request - St. Mary's County Library - #01

From: Michael Blackwell Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 3:44 PM

To: Safe Libraries

Cc: "" , smclboard , Joshua Brewster

Please find attached a PDF with all the documents that are responsive to your FOIA request.

Answering your request has required a comprehensive search of all records and speaking with employees about how reservations and payment were arranged for the use of a meeting room by outside groups on 6/23/2019. It also required speaking with Maryland’s PIO Ombudsman to get an interpretation of if one document was allowable. More than two hours were spent, inclusive of the preparation of documents.

On Page 1, find an email dating 5/28/19 containing, first, a request from a member of SMASH addressed to me, asking me to arrange posting of a flier for an upcoming event, and second, my reply that the flier must be treated like all such requests and brought into the library for consideration by employees. The name of the individual has been redacted in accordance with Maryland law on library records, but it is responsive because the person sending it was representing SMASH. This was the first notice anyone at the library had that there was going to be a drag queen story time.

On Page 2, find an email to me and County Commissioner President Randy Guy, “concerning the decision to partially defund the library.” It had an attachment, which I include later. It is from Geoffrey Blackwell of the American Atheist Legal Center and is responsive because representatives SMASH and Leonardtown PFLAG have co-signed. As I point out in my reply, (appearing on next page), Mr. Blackwell and I are, despite sharing a last name, in no way connected. I had never heard of him until receiving this email.

On Pages 3-4, find my reply to Mr. Blackwell’s email.

On pages 5-9, find the document that was attached to Mr. Blackwell’s email. It was hand-delivered as well as attached in PDF.  Because the two documents were identical, I include only one version here rather than scanning two copies of the same thing. You will find that his ideas on the legality of using library meeting rooms directly contradict your own. He is an attorney and member of the bar. I have had to consider his arguments carefully.

On page 6, find an email I sent to a generic address for Leonardtown PFLAG, explaining that a package intended for them had been mistakenly mailed to the library. Mailing a package to our address was an error on the part of the sender.  We have no affiliation with PFLAG Leonardtown or PFLAG National. I left the package at the Customer Service Desk in Leonardtown Library.  Employees tell me that somebody picked it up. I have no idea what was in it and retain no record of it other than this email.

This finishes the records responding to your request 1 – 3. We move on to 4 -5:  use of and payment for the library meeting room.

On page 7, you will find record of reservation for use of the meeting room on 6/23, made on 3/2/19.  The individual’s name has been redacted. Strictly speaking, this document is not responsive to your request.  You ask for all records related to “Drag Queen Story Hour.” You will see that this reservation makes no mention of that term.  I provide it to save us both time.  I could say I have no record of a reservation made for “Drag Queen Story Hour,” and you would then have to reformulate your request. The room was reserved for a “Special Event.”

Library meeting rooms may be reserved through an online system called Evanced.  This reservation was made though the system.  We have no direct or even email contact with the group making the reservation.  One of our employees reviews the reservation and simply approves the request in the online system.  A form response is then sent through the system, in this case on 3/4/19.  We have no record of these responses, other than what you see here. They do not go through our email system.  On page 8, I have given you the form and you can see roughly what the person making the request would have seen. If you wish to see exactly what was sent, you would have to apply to the group making the reservation. Because the room was originally reserved by a non-profit group and open to the public, no payment was required at the time.

On June 20th, one of our employees received a phone call asking to make payment for the room reservation. The caller was directed to pay online via credit card through our Paypal account. We have no phone or email record of this conversation, but you may see the receipt of the transaction on page 9:  $100 for 4 hours, at our regular rate of $25 per hour.

St Mary’s County Library has only these records that are responsive to your request and no others.

Michael Blackwell
Director, St Mary’s County Library
23250 Hollywood Road
Leonardtown, MD 20650
301-475-2846 x5013


  1. I congratulate this director for following the law. Such a law-abiding citizen should be commended.

    1. He is the most unprofessional library director I have even seen. He's the opposite of the customer is always right. Did you know he charged another whistleblower about $1600.00 for FOIA responses? But you have been trolling here for years, so feel free to submit a commendation here: He has a good chance of winning since ALA had "intellectual freedom" awards given to a library that followed ALA diktat to allow and cover up child prn on Internet computers, so such a nasty librarian is sure to win Librarian of the Year for defending something else that likely violates the law.

    2. The customer isn't always right!

      Most important is following the law. I notice you don't claim he is breaking the law. Just that he was a big meanie to you.

    3. "Mitch," I have filed a second FOIA request showing where and how he has broken the open government law, because I needed to ask the board of trustees to ensure he does not continue to break the law for this FOIA and that they repair the problem of his response to the previous FOIA. I'll be publishing that soon.

      Basically, Blackwell said he could get results for some of the requests in two hours. I amended my requests to include only those results where he said he could get results in two hours. He responded by saying he will send the two-hour results in 30 days. That violates the law.

      And "The Customer Is Always Right" is written in stone, literally.

    4. Mitch is correct. It's a dumb motto cited by problem customers. Etched in stone means nothing. Lots of dumb things etched in stone.

  2. You're not a customer of that library anyway.

    1. Residency is not a requirement for open government laws. Further, imagine if investigative reporters could only report on only where they are customers. John Stossel who? Sharyl Attkisson who? Michelle Malkin who?

      Keep your comments to the substance of my investigations and not me personally, else snip snip.

    2. No one said anything personal about you. No one mentioned residency laws. Filing public records requests doesn't make someone a library customer.


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