As you may remember, on October 9, 2013 I posted “Is the City Playing Games with Open Records?” In that post, and the previous one; “Money Orders and the City of El Paso” I described the two issues I was having with the city in fulfilling my open records requests. The first issue is that apparently my clearly detailed requests for information are being responded to with incomplete or erroneous information. The second issue is that the city has written to me that it cannot accept money orders for the fees associated with my open records requests.
In regards to the issue about money orders two things have transpired since I first share my experience with you. The first is that the city has decided to accept my money orders, for now. It is unclear if this will be for all future open records requests or if it is only for the current one.
In an email I received on October 14, 2013, the Public Information Coordinator wrote;
A money order will be fine. Although the City is not setup to take money orders, I explained your situation to the Comptroller last time and he is working with me to ensure we can process any that you send us.
Ms. Lopez was responding to an email she has sent me updating me on my pending open records request. Originally the city had asked me for about $116 to fulfill my request. Apparently my request yielded six DVDs of information. In response, after acceding to my money order, the city sent me another invoice for an additional $150 in fees to complete the process.
It took me various emails asking for an update to get to the point of receiving the second invoice.
Notwithstanding my concern with the city’s apparent inability to process money orders for open records requests although other city departments can accept them I am also now questioning why is it that I received an invoice for about $116 originally and after the money order back-and-forth the city is now requesting another $150.
Although the original invoice for $116 was an estimate of fees to complete the process I question why the original “estimate” could not have been more accurate? If the city has determined that it will take six DVDs they somehow had already estimated the amount of data, its location and the man hours it would take to send me the responsive documents.
After first declining to accept my original payment they then update the amount of fees to include an additional $150. I get the feeling that the city is attempting to discourage my current open records request through arbitrary fees, escalating each time I make a payment.
In regards to the issue of money orders the city seems to have decided that money orders for open records requests are not acceptable yet, as I pointed out on my other post it is accepted by other city departments.
During the weekend a blog reader pointed me to a comment made by Debbie Nathan on the Chuqueño blog. Under “Ortega’s Gambit”, Debbie Nathan had posted, through the comments section, a link to an open records request from April 7, 2011 made by KVIA.
In that open records request, the city issued an invoice dated April 21, 2011 to KVIA asking for $17.20 in fees. According to that invoice, the city wrote “Please submit your check or money order payable” to the city.
There are only two things that I can draw from my experience and KVIA’s from 2011. Either the city unilaterally decided that money orders were not acceptable for open records requests sometime after 2011 or the decision not to accept my money order has to do with me or my request specifically.
At first my initial thought was that it was a bureaucratic glitch in the process. However when you take into account that my request increased in fees from an original $116 to over $250 in the timespan from my first payment to the city finally accepting my money order I can’t help but wonder if there is something else at play here.
As if that wasn’t enough, David Karlsruher has suggested that I missed several companies that his parent’s own when I wrote “The Motives of Useful Idiot David Karlsruher”. I then noticed that in the back up material to a city council agenda item there was a reference to “CSA Engineers & Constructors” and an award to them in 2010. When I had submitted my original open records request on the Karlsruher’s business with the city I had requested a breakdown by year from 2000 through 2012 for the four company names I’m aware that the Karlsruher’s operate under.
The city responded with a breakdown for one company name; “CSA Design Group”. As I previously wrote I wasn’t initially bothered by the fact that I received a breakdown under on company name because it is common for businesses to handle money through one company although they may be known by many.
However the backup material in the city agenda and the money order debacle now has me wondering if there is a problem with the way open records requests are being handled. I am beginning to doubt the accuracy of the information provided to me.
Last Friday I submitted individual open records request for each company name under which the Karlsruhers operate under according to the information available to me. Each of those is the same names and time frames I used in my original request, however this time I submitted then separately. I expect to receive the same data I received in my original request, or I will receive additional information. If it is the latter, then I will ask for an explanation as to why I was given different information initially.
Depending on the answer I will decide how to proceed.
In order for transparency in government to work we must be able to rely on the accuracy of the records provided. In regards to the money order situation, I will first wait to receive the response to the open records request that initiated the question about money orders.
After that I will ask for a clarification of how, why and when the policy was made for denying the use of money orders for open records request. I want to know under what authority and who ultimately made the decision for this policy.
I will keep you informed as I continue through the process.