…this is part two of a three part response. For part one please click HERE.
We recently visited the Enterprise City Council meeting on Tuesday 1/19/16 to find out why they had denied our requests to release the city’s financial data in Excel format, which they readily admit they are capable of doing. We also wanted to know why they felt $7500 was a “reasonable” fee to charge for such data even though it shouldn’t consume near that much in city resources to produce. You can read more about our visit HERE and watch a video of our address to the council HERE.
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. (we responded to this in PART ONE)
- 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.
- 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.
THE MANIPULATION DEFENSE
We will now respond to the second defense which is “the manipulation defense”. We anticipated this defense and would have loved to address this with the council and mayor at the council meeting which is where they have requested we bring our questions and concerns. They however were not interested in a dialogue as evidenced by their silence and their insistence that we sit back down after our 3 minutes were up. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that we have requested, both publicly and privately, a work session style meeting devoted to our ideas of openness in our city government. We feel that this would be a much more efficient way to communicate rather than through blogs, social media, and the main stream media. But we digress…
The city is claiming that we can easily manipulate the copies of the data that they transmit to us. The claim is that all you have to do to an Excel file is open it up, change the numbers around, and then you can fabricate lies about the city and its finances. We do not dispute that this is a possibility; in fact we admit that this would be very easy. But we do dispute that this is an adequate defense to not provide us the data in Excel format.
First, we take offense that they would imply that we would fabricate falsehoods about the city. Our movement is about the truth and having constructive dialogue based on that truth. We challenge anyone to find where we have fabricated numbers and facts to further our cause. If we were caught doing that it would damage our movement because it is antithetical to our mission of openness. Besides, if we wanted to make up numbers, why would we even ask for the real ones? Wouldn’t we just make them up and present them as fact?
The reality is that there is nothing the city can do to prevent the manipulation of data, regardless of format. While it is true that one could easily manipulate an Excel document, it is also true that one could easily manipulate the PDF document that they have offered to produce. To see how easy this is CLICK HERE for an example. This is an excerpt of the October 2015 general ledger that we received last month after we requested a sample of the format they wanted to provide us the data in. Using basic Adobe Acrobat PDF software you can easily change anything you want to change. We removed the headers and footers and inserted “FAKE DOCUMENT” so that this couldn’t be confused with a real one. If you’ll study the document that we have manipulated you’ll see that we changed the Mayor’s car allowance to $3.00 monthly with an annual budget of $36.00. Surely we can’t expect him to be able to put a car on the road for $36.00 a year. We could have just as easily changed the number to $20,000 a month and $240,000 a year but that’s not the point. The point is that regardless of format, data can be manipulated very easily with today’s technology. This includes the format that the city claims they prefer because it cannot be manipulated. The reason we want the data exported into an Excel format is because it is produced in a tabular form (defined rows and columns) that makes it easy to process the data, run reports, make tables, charts, and graphs, etc. If we wanted to manipulate the data or change it in any way, we’d just ask for it in PDF like they have offered.
Please stay tuned, we will offer our responses to the third defense in the days ahead.