Monday, March 10, 2014

Guest View-John Musolf: "Transparency Lost"

I made a "Call to Audience" presentation at last week's Oro Valley Town Council meeting. I reported that Oro Valley Town Clerk Bower was participating in political activity while representing the town.  She was quoted in a the local advertising circular in support of House Bill 2419.

As we previously reported,  this bill, sponsored by Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, would allow a government agency to charge $20 per hour after the first eight hours required to fulfill an information request. The bill would not require that agencies charge for requests for the first eight hours. As we wrote in this publication, this bill would curtail Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA")  requests by requiring cost prohibitive time charges. It would have a “chilling” effect on filing FOIA requests that may exceed 8 hours.

Two town clerks were interviewed about HR 2419 for the article to which I previously referred.  Jocelyn Bronson, the Marana Town Clerk, said she doesn’t feel the municipality needs such a law in place.  Oro Valley Town Clerk Julie Bower said the bill would be helpful in deterring broad and unfocused public records requests.

Bower said she is in favor of the bill.  I quote:  “For the most part, the vast majority would not be affected by this, because most records request are very specific and they don’t take us very long to process,” Bower continued. “But there is an opportunity for abuse because we get a lot of requests from the same people, and they are overly broad requests that take hours to fulfill. I think this bill could maybe address that a little bit."  She further reported that three requests in January took more than eight hours to produce.

I made these three requests.  The requests were for emails that were sent or received by the Mayor and the six council members for a specific time periods.  I made this request to assess whether council members were using town assets to plan, discuss or coordinate the recall of Council Member Mike Zinkin. The request was not a broad. It was unfocused. It was not abusive.

One of the emails we found was one from Council Member Waters advising a strategy for communicating the position to remove Zinkin.  He said: "Make it personal."   A fews weeks later, at a council meeting, Council Member Snider did just that.  His use of the town's email for this purpose was a misappropriation of town assets. It was also proof that he, too, was involved in the recall.

My FOIA email request has brought to light other “questionable practices” described in other emails that the Mayor, council members and town employees engaged in which we will discuss from time to time in future LOVE postings.

Perhaps Town Clerk Bowers should worry less about curtailing FOIA requests and attend to her job of simply fulfilling these request, as she is legally required to do.


Richard Furash, MBA said...

If I recall correctly, HB 2419 was introduced because of a Sierra Vista gadfly who has made many time consuming, nonsensical FOIA requests. This person has poisoned the well for those citizens who have legitimate reasons for FOIA actions.

It is very sad that even when Mr. Musoff exposes the "questionable practices" of town officials, no action is taken. Expensive, full page screeds in the AZ Star and the Explorer would be just about the only way to expose the evil-doers.

The fact that only 5 comments were posted on the excellent post regarding the Gold Plated police contact on this blog is sad. Oro Valley is asleep and the fox is in the hen house.

Richard Furash, MBA said...

Just because there weren't many comments on the police issue, don't assume people aren't paying attention. Election day will be fun!