Wyoming court declares tape public record

WYOMING — A secret recording during a University of Wyoming meeting that led to an employee’s termination is public record even though the recording was not commissioned by the university, the state supreme court has ruled.

In 2003, a university employee secretly taped a meeting of the University Traffic Appeals Committee, and then turned the tape over to an administrator, causing an investigation into university Transportation and Parking Services Manager Corinne Sheaffer. Sheaffer was fired in 2004 because of what the university called “serious misconduct” brought to light by the tape. Sheaffer then requested access to the tape under the Wyoming Public Records Act, but the university refused and a lower court sided with the university that the tape was not public record.

Sheaffer appealed, and the supreme court held that the tape was public record under the state law because the university director received the tape in connection with an investigation, which can be defined as a “transaction of public business.” The Wyoming Public Records Act interprets “public business” as a wide range of activities, including investigations of employees.

The university had attempted to exempt the tapes from public record by labeling them for use in a personnel investigation. But the court denied the exemption, stating the tape was not used “solely” for investigative purposes since the university employee had provided the tape before any investigation began.

The university will not pursue any future legal action, said Susan Weidel, an attorney for the university.