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. (we responded to this in PART TWO)
- 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 CITY RESOURCES DEFENSE
We will now respond to the third defense which is “the city resources defense”. They claim that they are simply following the city resolution that allows them to charge for the consumption of city resources to produce the document. You can see the resolution they are referring to by clicking HERE. Of course, they are hiding behind a resolution that THEY passed and signed and that THEY can easily amend or replace by a majority vote of the council, but we digress…
Let’s examine this resolution in more detail. The resolution in place simply states, in reference to public records requests, that they wish to charge for “associated costs, if any, by any member of the public…” A form was attached to the resolution to set the 2005 costs and the council gave the city clerk the authority to adjust those as needed. The form has been updated twice to increase costs of paper copies and to add the additional categories of certain “digital records” to the form. The research labor of $10 per hour has never been changed according to the form on the city’s website, except the first hour is no longer free.
It’s important to note that the original form that the council approved included two basic categories, one for research labor at $10.00 per hour, and one for paper copies at $0.20 and $0.25 per page depending on what it was. This seems to indicate that they wished to charge $10 per hour when a city employee had to work on a public records request. It also indicates that the city wanted to recoup its printing costs when a requester needed paper copies produced. It is clear by the wording of the resolution that the council intended to recoup the actual “associated costs” incurred by the city, not produce revenues or profits.
So that leads us to our request. If the resolution passed in 2005 was intended to allow the city to recoup its actual “associated costs” then how is the city arriving at a $7500 price tag for the information we have requested? The only “associated costs” that we can ascertain are the research labor to compile the reports, the DVD they are going to burn the info to, and the DVD case to store the disc in. A blank 4.7GB DVD will cost you $0.25 and the case will cost you another $0.85 at the local office supply. Let’s round that total up to $5.00 just to make sure all other expenses are covered in relation to the data storage. That leaves $7495 to devote to research labor. It is disingenuous to suggest that there are any other “associated costs” tied to our request. The current charge of $10 per hour after the first hour must mean that they estimate it will take 749.5 hours to complete our request. That’s close to 19 weeks of work based on a 40 hour work week.
We have discussed our request with multiple out of town accounting firms who are familiar with the Munis software that the city employs. They all claim that this information could be produced within a few hours by anyone proficient with the software. In fact, they say if the reports were scheduled to run after hours it could actually be performed in minutes because the only time consuming activity is the computer processing the data, not human labor. The reports would be ready when the employee reported to work the next day. The $7495 charge is ridiculous and it is not consistent with the spirit of the resolution passed by THIS council more than 10 years ago. Even if we allowed for the fact that $10 per hour is too low for this type of work, there is no way you could justify anything close to $7500. We estimate that $75 would be much closer to the actual “associated costs” than their current price.
We feel that we have adequately rebutted every defense the city has offered to not provide us the data that we requested, in the format we requested, and at a reasonable price commensurate with the actual “associated costs” of the request. We also feel it’s time that our city’s leaders just come clean and admit why they will not comply with our request…
They just don’t want to.