Is The City Hiding Public Records?

It all started out as a simple attempt to confirm whether a rumor that Steve Ortega may have used city property to run his mayoral campaign was true or not. The sixty-three day odyssey turned into a search for an elusive picture of a city representative and the County Judge that when I finally got to see the picture it left me with serious questions about how the city has processed my open records requests. There is no doubt that I am critical of the city’s processes and have wondered many times if the city intentionally obstructs the public’s right to know. Many of you argue that I have an agenda and therefore my musings are just those of someone trying to stop the city’s progression forward. Others just think I’m plain crazy.

Whether you agree or disagree with me I believe that there is one thing we can all agree on and that is that for Democracy to work it needs a government that is transparent and forthcoming in the public’s right to know. Putting aside our differences for a moment I want to share with you my experiences in trying to ascertain whether a rumor was true or not. I am going to share with you my concerns, the steps I took and what the outcome was in order to give you an opportunity to see if I’m right to question the motives of the city in the way it has handled my open records request.

I am going to try and share the whole process with you as succinctly and with as little commentary as I can muster.

It all started because I had heard a rumor that Steve Ortega had used city computers for his mayoral campaign and that Lily Limon, upon taking office, had seen images that supported this belief. These rumors came, as most rumors, from the political undercurrent that many of you hear regularly. I wanted to follow up and see if the rumor was correct.

On September 9, 2013 I filed two open records request with the city. The first one (W001288-090913) asked for “any digital images, or photographs of any immediate-past city representative on any computer device currently in use by, or in any city representative’s office”. The second request (W001289-090913) asked for “any copies of any digital files, images or other documents currently on District 7, Lily Limón’s city issued computer device that contains any reference to Steve Ortega’s campaign for Mayor”.

I thought I had covered all of my bases by specifically asking for any image of “any immediate-past city representative” and one even more specifically asking for any images on Lily Limon’s computers that “contains reference to Steve Ortega’s campaign for Mayor”.

On October 2, 2013 the city let me know that it cannot accept a money order for the $116.25 deposit it had requested for the responsive documents. Remember that this is already twenty-three days after I had submitted my original open records request.

I have already written about the whole money order fiasco however there are two things I haven’t shared with you yet. First is I believe there was a specific reason why all of sudden a money order from me was not acceptable. I’ll be sharing with you why I think money orders all of sudden became an issue as they pertain to me later this week.

However, it seems to me that the money order fiasco was specifically targeted at me after I submitted the open records request asking for images related to Steve Ortega because on July 18, 2013 the city had accepted a money order from me for my open records request numbered “W000208-061713” without any comment. You read that right; the city had already accepted a money order from me on a previous open records request less than three months earlier. All of a sudden my money orders were no longer acceptable by the city. I have yet to receive an explanation of why this changed.

Between October 3, 2013 and October 14, 2013 the city and I went back and forth in regards to my use of money orders even me having to send two emails in order to find out if my open records request was still even active.

On October 28, 2013 and the following day I received over 1,000 images as a response to my open records request. Of all of the images that I received only three were from District 7, the district that supposedly had the majority of the records I was looking for. That was too strange for me and convenient for someone else.

After hearing from Eddie Holguin that sometime after Lily Limon assumed office the computers that were formally used by Steve Ortega had been replaced or refreshed or upgraded, I began to feel like my request had mobilized someone. At this point I do not know what or how or even if the computers were changed, however it makes sense and it explains why I only received three images from Limón’s computers.

However this further raises more questions about the timing of this action.

Why?

Because not knowing exactly when this transpired, or if it did, forces me to wonder if it had anything to do with my original open records request.

Some of you are asking yourselves why I don’t find out more about whether the computers had been replaced, upgraded or refreshed. I tried by asking Lily Limon to answer a few questions. As of today she has not answered my questions about whether her computers were upgraded, refreshed or replaced.

Open records request cannot be used to answer questions. Besides at this point I do not trust the city to be honest or forthright to me therefore why bother?

These are the issues I see with my experience.

1. It seems to me that the city purposely delayed releasing the responsive documents to me as evidenced by the money order debacle and the length of time it took to get the documents. I can only speculate about the reasons for this.

2. I believe the city purposely withheld responsive documents from me although I cannot prove it. However why did I receive four images in response to two very specific requests that asked for a very specific image that in my opinion should have been included in my original request from September 9, 2013. Remember that my original request asked for images of “any immediate-past city representative” on any computer in their offices and although I received over one-thousand images none of the four that I received on Monday were included. Why? The requests that resulted in the four images asked specifically for images in Lily Limon’s computers. Why were these four images not include in my original request although my original request asked for images from any city representatives’ office?

3. How can I believe that all of the responsive documents have been released to me if I had to be very specific in order to get the latest additional four images? Do I need to know specifically what document exists at the city in order to get a copy of it? If that is the case then why have sunshine laws? More importantly the reason for my original request that got this whole fiasco going was trying to determine if Steve Ortega misused city property. After all this I’m left with more questions than when I first started this exercise.

4. Were the computers in Lily Limon’s office replaced, refreshed or upgraded and if they were, was it as a result of my open records request?

5. Am I to believe that all that happened to me on this one open records request was just an unfortunately “misunderstanding” or am I right to assume that there is subterfuge in the way the process was handled?

In the next few days I’m going to further develop for you why and how I believe the city is purposely thwarting my quest for transparency. Tomorrow I’ll share with you why I believe Lily Limon hasn’t answered my email to her and then on Friday I’ll share with you why I believe the money order game was used on me. It’s not what you think and it has everything to do with mobilizing the cadre of useful idiots.

And if you think this experience was bad wait until I reveal for you even more information on Monday that will clearly lay out everything for you.

Oh, I almost forgot the reason a few of you came to read my blog today and that’s for the pictures. Here they are.

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