Montana health department sued after denying public records request

EMILY SCHABACKER

Disability Rights Montana filed a lawsuit against the state health department Wednesday after the agency denied a public records request regarding the hiring of Mike Randol, head of Montana’s Medicaid and Health Services program.

Hired on May 31, 2022, Randol directs three divisions in the Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and is responsible for managing a combined annual budget of $2.7 billion, according to a press release from the law firm representing DRM.

Leadership at DRM formally requested any and all documents pertaining to the hiring of Randol including applications or nomination materials, according to the complaint. The initial request for documents was sent on July 13, 2022.

The request was denied twice by public information officer Jon Ebelt. He initially stated the materials were confidential, protected by the Montana Constitution.

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“This request for an individual employee’s application materials and documents is ‘a case in which the demand of individual’s privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure,’” Ebelt wrote in an email to DRM earlier this year, directly quoting the state Constitution.

Executive Director for DRM, Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, argued that Randol’s position as the head

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