Monday, March 18, 2013

City public information response: delay, obfuscate & manipulate

GREENSBORO, NC -- In an insightful piece about the City of Greensboro's plans to add multiple new layers of bureaucratic intervention to public records access, Rhino Times editor John Hammer warns "that public records requests that should take minutes may take months."

Hammer is right to be concerned about additional delay to a process that is already woefully slow and I have a convenient and disturbing recent example.

Two weeks to forward a message from the Chief of Police

In July of last year, I made a request for records documenting access to City surveillance cameras. In recent months, I have been going back and forth with a city public relations employee about why the response to my request only included information about private security guards (no city employees or others). After months of what felt like banging my head against a wall, the employee admitted she did not have an answer for that and said she would forward my question to others, including the Police Department, for an answer.

The next day, on a Saturday, no less, Police Chief Ken Miller responded to the city employee. When did I finally receive the Chief's response? Two weeks later. 

That's right, the Chief of Police jumps to answer a citizen's question on a weekend and the City's handler lets it hibernate in her inbox for two weeks before forwarding it along (and that only after the Chief's reply was misrepresented to me and I asked for his original response—more on that in a minute). Hammer is right to be concerned.

Here is the header from the Chief's original response:
Here it is being forwarded to me:

Get me a rewrite!

As I mentioned, I had to prod the City employee to send me the Chief's email after I received from her what she falsely represented as quotations from the Chief of Police and a police officer. Yes, she took emails sent to her, rewrote them, put them in quotation marks and wrote, "Here is the response I received..." (and sent it 12 days after the Chief's response.) Here is what she sent:
Good evening,

Here is the response that I received from the Police Chief and also from the Officer who supervises Lankford who provides our security for facilities:

“The City hires Lankford to provide security to facilities, which includes monitoring City cameras in the video room. GPD cannot access these cameras from the cars and Police does not yet have a command center, so Lankford would be the City’s eyes/ears on the cameras.”

“Two unarmed Lankford Security Service Officers monitor the cameras in the Camera Room located in the basement of the MMOB. The Camera Room is a secure room with a swipe card access. The only people who have access to the room are the two Security Officers, the Police Lieutenant who supervises facilities security and the three Security Office employees. If a visitor comes to the Security Office to request a video a request form must be completed by the requesting party, reviewed by and approved by Police. Also anyone that comes into the room must fill out a roster form that is kept at the entrance to the room. The Security Guards gain access to the system through a password protected log in. David Hayes (City IT) is the System Administrator.”
Here is the actual email from the Chief. The portions edited by the City employee are in brackets:
The City hires Lankford to provide security to facilities, which includes monitoring City cameras in the video room. [It is cheaper than hiring police officers for the same task and doesn't require the training or authority that police officers require.  While I have not seen the document that the City sent to Roch, I suspect it reflects this monitoring activity, which is why he only sees security access.  I am not aware that] GPD [can] access these cameras from the cars and [we do] not yet have a command center, so Lankford would be our eyes/ears on the cameras.

[I think a meeting with Roch may help him understand things a little better.  We have no conspiracy going on anything, but the PIRT process is not a very good way to address his concerns on this or the DNA issue.  I do not expect him to agree with our position on things, but it may help reduce the constant barrage of PIRTs from him.]
The other reply from the supervising officer was also edited from its original, but you get the point.

Barrage or cascade?

Did you read the last paragraph of the Chief's real response? I find it troubling that the Chief is of the opinion that it is for him to decide what is the best way for the city to "address" my "concerns." The records of the City are the people's records. They are to be provided when requested, no questions asked. That's the law. The Chief should know that. It's not for him or anybody else to determine whether or not providing public records is the best way to respond to a citizen who has asked for public records. If the City wants to try to manipulate a message or manage public perception, they are free to try do so, but not as a substitute for providing public records.

As for the "barrage," my original request for records documenting access to surveillance cameras was a single request—made eight months ago. It is only because the city's response was deficient that I had to make subsequent requests to learn how my request was handled, who saw it, who didn't and what types of records actually exist that should have been provided in response to my original request. This is not a barrage, it is a cascadea bothersome result of the City's own pathetic actions.

As a result of those additional requests, I've identified at least nine types of records that should have been provided in response to my initial request — records I did not receive. I've made nine new requests for those records specifically. It's not my fault nor my pleasure that the City couldn't simply fill my request when I first asked.

[Updated for clarity]


rmelton said...

Wow, it just never ends with these people does it?

Billy Jones said...

GPD is clean but the Information Department or persons in power have secrets they want to hide. So now we end up with Chief Miller in a position of power over his boss. So what does he do:

"So think about it: why are Greensboro Police now in charge of all public information releases? Because the Greensboro Information Department is suspect in Chief Ken Miller's mind and he'll not have it any other way. That's why. Could Greensboro City Manager Denise Turner Roth force Chief Miller to give records control back to the Information Department? Sure, but if she does that he plays the trump card and puts some guilty party or parties behind bars and that person or persons take Denise Turner Roth down with them. This police chief only answers to the city manager on paper. I warned the chief this city ate honest cops, it appears he took me seriously."

It's time to call for that investigation into the possibility that City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter was framed even if you don't believe she was. Only that will make Greensboro's public records process open and honest.

You've made the case for me Roch.

Roch Smith, Jr said...

Please, Billy, stick to the facts. Your scenario has the Chief aware that someone forged police emails and doing nothing about it. Unless you have some evidence of that, please don't hijack my blog with ill conceived theories.

Billy Jones said...

No Roch, I'm saying the City Manager is being blackmailed by someone who is threatening to roll over on her if she uses her position to keep the chief in line.

Think about it.

But as long as people like yourself are unwilling to demand an investigation we will never know the facts leaving people like myself forever free to speculate.

Roch Smith, Jr said...

I will support Marikay if she asks for an investigation.

Roch Smith, Jr said...

" I'm saying the City Manager is being blackmailed by someone who is threatening to roll over on her if she uses her position to keep the chief in line."

Dude, please. You just wrote above that the Chief would "play his trump card" and would put someone in jail only if Denise tries to "keep him in line."

So now your theory has the chief with knowledge of a forged email and blackmail and doing nothing about either. All without a single shred of evidence.

Think, man!

Tony Wilkins said...

Roch, just an fyi- I have an hour scheduled with the city manager Wednesday and I plan to use part of that time to discuss Public Records Requests.

From an e-mail I just received:

"You have also been copied on multiple e-mails from Roch Smith regarding his requests. Staff continues to keep him informed on the progress toward fully completing his request for information related to the proposed regional DNA database. We release information to Roch and all requestors in parts to demonstrate progress and reduce their wait time. Friday morning, Mr. Smith filed 14 additional requests for records, and we will work to complete those in an efficient manner.
As discussed before, we have added temporary workers to help meet the volume of records we are managing currently. By comparison, we have received 136 more requests thus far in FY 12-13 than we received all of last year. In addition, in comparing the number of requests between the first three months of 2012 to this year, we have received 76 additional requests in 2013. There is greater strain on our system currently and we are doing all that is reasonable to adjust and respond".

Tony Wilkins said...

Sorry, the e-mail was from the city manager.

Roch Smith, Jr said...

Thank you for commenting, Tony. I'll be happy to give you the details, but those 14 additional requests were for the types of records that should have been provided to me in response to my request of July of last year -- again, a point the City seems to miss, that when they fail to provide a complete response to begin with, it begets a cascade of additional requests.


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