Money Orders and the City of El Paso

As you are probably aware by now, I recently sent a money order to the City of El Paso in response to an Open Records Request that, according to their response yielded six DVDs of data. They sent me an invoice for a little over $100 to complete processing my request. Looking forward to the response I sent in a money order for the full amount. I purchased the money order at the United States Post Office here in Orlando.

Since the mail is slow between El Paso and Orlando, it usually takes three days to get to the location, I waited patiently. Taking into account that the city is closed on Friday’s the ten-day delay was turning into weeks of waiting for the information I requested.

On Wednesday evening (8:06pm), in my time zone, I received an email response from the city letting me know that they were in receipt of my money order, however the email added that according to the invoice I had received the city only accepts “cash, checks, and credit card payments”.

I was confused about this at first because I had always assumed money orders were the same as checks. In fact, I always thought they were safer than checks.

I responded to the city asking them if they would accept a temporary check from my business account. You see, I haven’t ordered paper checks because being in the technology industry it is more efficient for me to make payments electronically then printing and mailing checks.

For obvious reasons I didn’t take them up on their offer and mailed in cash.

As for credit cards, it would be an easy thing for me to call them and give them a credit card number and be done with it, and I seriously thought about that.

However, because of the little I know about “piercing the corporate veil” in corporate law and for tax reasons I have always adhered to the strict discipline of not commingling business funds with personal funds. Not to mention that the policy of not accepting money orders doesn’t seem proper to me.

I quickly Googled the city’s policy on money orders and found some interesting things.

Under frequently asked questions for the Police Department I read that the city accepts money orders for accident reports.

Likewise, the city’s Treasury Services Division accepts money orders for NSF checks.

And, the city’s Human Resources Department accepts money orders for reimbursements for the employee tuition assistance program.

Obviously the policy against money orders is not universal to the city and apparently it is restricted to open records requests.

Yesterday in the evening I received a response from the city letting me know that the comptroller is looking into seeing how they can process my money order. According to the email response; “the City like other businesses does not accept money orders” because they have no way to process them. Aha, I thought to myself, they are using a local check reader device to deposit the checks without sending someone to the bank.

However, unless the city is hoarding cash, someone must make a trip to the bank regularly, after all they accept cash as payments. But, it is very possible that they are using a check reader device to make direct deposits from checks.

The one we use in my business accepts money orders, as well as checks but I needed to do a quick Google search to see if not all devices are capable of processing money orders. I could not find any reference to any device that would not process a money order.

I still don’t know why this policy has been implemented for open records requests.

At this point I’m hoping that this is nothing more than some bureaucratic misunderstanding. Unfortunately since the city is on a four-day work week I now have to wait until Monday to check on the status of my request.