The Purge, Part 8

Let's get caught up on where we are in this open-records journey. (If you are new to the blog, click on the Open Government category to your right to read previous Purge entries).

Open-records requester John Washburn hasn't been able to get copies of the Governor Rick Perry's office emails because of the cost charged by the office. The governor's office said it would fill his request, but only if he paid a few thousand dollars for about a month's worth of emails.

This triggered a complaint to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office. Washburn received a response yesterday. In part, it reads:

To determine the appropriateness of the charges, we consider the following elements:
The test performed;
The number of computers that will require a search for responsive records;
The volume of emails responsive to the request and;
The charges used in the calculations.
Upon review of those elements, we find that the estimated charges are appropriate.
The complaint file is closed.
UPDATE:Download file
Washburn has responded, though it's unclear what he can do now that the AG's office says it won't play. Parts of his response are below:
My objections to the dismissal of the complaint are:

1) You have accepted Ms. Thornton method of records production as reasonable. It is not. As I stated to Ms. Thornton in my telephone conversation with her on November 12, 2007, her client side approach is inefficient and excessively costly. During that telephone conversation I offered to provide the server-side programming* which would be more efficient, less error prone, easier to review and redact, and would not bother the 250 staff members of the Governor’s office.

2) You have accepted Ms. Thornton’s unsupported statement that it is beyond the technical capabilities of the IT staff to export the responsive records using programmatic means. Ms. Thornton’s statements of incompetence are difficult to believe and I don’t believe them. The close parsing of her words would indicate she has never asked her technical staff for assistance in exporting the requested electronic records and has instead deliberately chosen the most inefficient and expensive method to produce the requested records.

3) By deliberately choosing costly and inefficient methods, The Office of the Governor is deliberately overcharging for the requested records. This is, as you know, tantamount to blocking the release of the requested records.

The Governor’s office is pursuing a series of decisions and methods which evinces but one object; the execution of tactic three of the attached essay, “How to Hide Public Records”. Tactic three is excerpted below:

Make them pay for what they really want. Like a parking ticket or a speeding ticket, levy a fine. Claim that finding the record will incur a tremendous amount of time. You can charge for time to find long-buried records. If your budget is tight, urge your superiors to set a higher per-page copying cost to help offset those copier expenses. You're not responsible for reducing costs. You are able by law to charge to help offset the cost of producing some kinds of records.

*You see, in an effort to help streamline the process for future requests of governor's office email, Washburn himself -- a software designer -- actually took the time to create a program by which the office could easily extract the emails being requested. He believes his program would reduce the time and number of employees required to fill his request, thereby reducing the charge for the emails. But the office never responded to his offer, even though it appears he designed what could be a very helpful program for other state agencies to use to fulfill the TPIA.

I'll upload the actual documents in a few hours.

Posted by E
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