Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Editorial: The Fight for Transparency in Oro Valley, Part 2

This is Part 2 of an article that appeared on Monday discussing Mike Zinkin’s ongoing battle to persuade the town to comply with the law regarding public records requests.
In Part 1, we left off with Zinkin asking the following question of the Town Clerk: “Is my request against the law or is it against Town ability?”

Standish replied, “It is not a legal problem, it is a staffing/tracking/software problem.” He explained that the system has limitations in that it “can’t manage a continuing future request” such as the one that Zinkin submitted. Standish said that the town is working to fix it.

He added that if he accepted Zinkin’s request to be copied on all reoccurring future Council Reports and Council Forwards, that he would have to accept “any/all reoccurring future requests and re-open old ones.” He felt that this would become “burdensome.”

This begged the question…How many people are actually asking for ongoing documents? It’s not burdensome if the town clerk’s office has received only a few requests of this type over the past year.

Proof of Burden
Zinkin then inquired: (1) How many ongoing requests are on file at this time? (2) What is your timeline for having the problem fixed?

Standish responded that he could not answer the questions until he spoke to Town Manager, Danny Sharp who was currently out of the office, to which Zinkin replied, “There is an acting Town Manager to fill the responsibilities until the Town Manager returns. What is the point of the ‘acting’ Town Manager if he/she cannot make any decisions?” Standish then agreed to speak with the Interim Town Manager.

At this point, Zinkin learned that there are no continuing requests on file at this time and that staff is reviewing several options to remedy the current limitations of the system including, “working with the vendor to reconfigure the public record request system to allow for the processing of reoccurring future requests.”

Will Legal Action be Necessary?
Zinkin is considering legal action if the town cannot process his request which becomes effective on 11/16/16. As Mike stated in his final e-mail, “it should become a priority of the Town to comply with the law.” It has been four weeks since Zinkin made his request, giving the town ample time to come up with a solution.

Legal Precedent
For some clarity on this topic, in a recent legal opinion [West Valley View, Inc. v. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office], the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that nothing in A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D) precludes an ongoing request for disclosure of a narrowly defined, clearly identifiable category of to-be-created documents that the public agency concedes are public records.

Mike Zinkin’s request clearly falls into the above category.
Editor’s Note
Although Mike Zinkin believes that Town Clerk, Michael Standish, has integrity and is committed to open government, the chronic history of citizen obstruction by the town clerk’s office during the tenures of former clerks Kathy Cuvelier and Julie Bower, leads us to wonder if the ongoing obfuscation isn’t perhaps the result of “marching orders” handed to the town clerk by the town manager and the mayor. Time will tell.