If you haven’t heard, we visited the Enterprise City Council meeting on Tuesday 1/19/16 and asked why they had denied our requests to provide the city’s financial information in Excel format (they have since admitted they are fully capable of producing documents in this format). In addition we wanted to know why they wanted to charge us $7500 for the documents even though it shouldn’t require much effort or expense to produce. You can read more about the meeting HERE and watch the video of the meeting HERE (this is a new, audio-enhanced version that has been edited to only include our address).
The city has formulated a three part defense for their actions:
- The law does not require the city to comply with the request and they have the Attorney General Opinion to prove it.
- If they give it to us in the format we have requested, then we will be able to manipulate the data and therefore fabricate falsehoods about the city’s finances. Another interpretation is that we could somehow corrupt the city’s own data even though we have only asked for digital copies of data, not access to the city’s databases.
- It would not be a responsible use of tax payer money and resources to comply with the request; therefore they must provide it in an alternative format that we did not want.
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that we do not feel that any of these arguments hold any water. We intend to respond to these defenses in a series of 3 separate posts over the next few days. This way each of their defenses gets the attention it deserves. We will begin today with their first and most fervent defense.
THE LEGAL DEFENSE
Even though in our prepared statement we pleaded with them to not take a legalistic approach to our questions that is exactly where they went. They seemed to imply that we have claimed that they are legally required to provide us the data in a certain format. We have never made such claims and if you read our statement HERE you will notice that we only rhetorically asked this question and stated that we understood that this was their position. We did not dispute this position and even attempted to clarify but were not allowed to by the council. This is a classic case of our clearly stated message being hijacked because they were either not listening or are being disingenuous.
While they claim that they have no legal obligation to provide us the data in a specific format, they have not claimed nor produced any legal support for a claim that precludes them from providing it in such a format. Simply put, they would not be breaking the law to provide us the data in Excel format.
The reality is that the vast majority of what our city government does is not required by law. There is no law requiring any of the following:
- City schools
- Parks and recreation
- Economic development
- Mosquito control
- Yard trash service
- Street sweeping
- We can go on and on
If the city applied the standard that they are applying to our document request to these items among the many other countless things the city does, we’re not sure the city would even exist. It certainly would not exist as we recognize Enterprise today. The legal requirement to do something has never been the impetus for the provision of city services. The expectations of the citizens have always served as that impetus. We believe that Enterprise’s citizen’s expectations of openness and transparency in local government far exceeds the minimum standards prescribed by law. It is past time our city leaders realize that.
Please stay tuned, we will offer our responses to the other two defenses in the days ahead.