Things That Make Me Smile
I ran into Trooper Black today. It reminded me that I've never posted about him. Trooper Black is a DPS trooper who guards the capitol grounds. He is black. His partner is Trooper Brown, who, as luck would have it, is brown. Crazy stuff.
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The Purge, Part 7
Two "Purge" entries in one day, because I had the opportunity to take the question about Governor Perry's email retention policy to U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

Cornyn is pretty well-known for his strong support of open government laws. During his time as Texas Attorney General, his office was charged with interpreting the Texas Public Information Act, and reporters who were around during his tenure say he made fair calls. Since he's been in the Senate, Cornyn has authored numerous pieces of legislation to expand government transparency. In a recent column, Cornyn wrote this:

...As we move to protect our society, we must make certain that government operates in full view of the people who fund it, and give their consent. Our democracy is based on the right to know. This is one of our most treasured civil liberties in America, one that should never be lost or forgotten.

So, given his stance on the issue, what does he make of the governor's office policy of deleting emails after seven days, and allowing these emails to fall into the cyber-abyss unless they are requested before the weekly purge? Cornyn says he'll do more research:

Read more of "The Purge" by clicking the Open Government label to your right. It's also important to note that my colleagues Cody at the Texas Observer and Jay at the Star-Telegram continue their coverage of all of this. Here's some recent stuff:

Perry will share his emails, send a bill (Star-Telegram)
Email Fight: Perry demands $2K per month (Texas Observer)

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The Purge, Part 6

In Part Five of this series, you saw the responses from the governor's office to public information crusader, John Washburn, about his twice-weekly requests for emails that end in "governor.state.tx.us".

Now Washburn is responding. With a formal complaint to the Texas Attorney General's office.

Dear Mr. Simpson:
I would like to file a formal complaint with the Attorney General of Texas regarding the excessive charges to copy electronic records to electronic media. The charges amount to $568.00 for one CD-ROM worth of data.
As I articulated below, I believe Texas statues and administrative rules only allow for the charge of two dollars ($2.00) not $568.00 as asserted by the Office of the Governor. Attached are the relevant correspondences. I am also mailing the attached to the Austin address of the Attorney General.
As an aside I must say the “itemization” leaves something to be desired. What services exactly am I getting for $567.00?
Washburn also wrote back to the governor's deputy counsel, disputing some of the charges as well as the governor's office contention that Washburn has not paid for his total of seven TPIA requests. Washburn says this is untrue, because he only got an itemization of costs for one of his seven requests.
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Men of the Week with a Capital "M"
Mizzou mens football
Marion Barber
Maury Povich

Snippet from Stiles: Side Dish
Why do they have a greeter? -on a mysterious greeter character at my nearby Chik-Fil-A

Cowboys game photos are here!
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The Purge, Part 5

Anyone have $2,300 to spare? That's how much the office of Governor Rick Perry estimates it's going to cost to fulfill John Washburn's public information requests for about two weeks worth of the Governor's office emails.

If you are new to the blog, a quick summary:
In state offices, emails are considered public records. Perry's office policy (dating back to Governor Bush in 1999) is to delete internal emails after seven days. Individual staffers decide which emails need to be kept longer for the public record. This weekend, the Star-Telegram's editorial board weighed in...

But who's to know whether crucial missives are being tossed with the trivial? What if a staffer's e-mails setting up lunch are relevant to, say, improper contacts with lobbyists? What if a staffer's non-job-related e-mails reveal conduct unbecoming a state employee?
Twice a week for the last three weeks, open government crusader John Washburn has sent out a TPIA request for the governor's office emails, excluding constituent mail. He received an itemized response from the Governor's Deputy General Counsel this week, with charges for FOUR DAYS worth of emails:

31.5 hours of staff time at $15/hour = $472.50 (to compile and redact emails)
Overhead at 20% of staff charge = $94.50
CD for compiled material = $1
TOTAL for four days worth of emails = $568

The letter from the Governor's office once again encourages Washburn to narrow his request to save money.

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"Anonymous" Hates Me :(
So, on Saturday I went to the Barack Obama rally in which Austin band Fastball opened. I ended up liveblogging about Fastball a lot, since Obama was late. I also made a little video in between Fastball songs. Apparently I was "picking on" Fastball, which elicited this response from an anonymous commenter.
Why are you picking on Fastball? They have accomplished much more than you ever will. You are a no-name reporter, but Fastball was nominated for two Grammy awards. So what if their peak came in '98 and '99? Does that mean they aren't allowed to play their music anymore? Get a grip!

ME get a grip?!?!? Hrmmm.
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Need Help With Your Christmas Shopping?
How about some toys painted with lead? Send me your lists! Stiles and I head to China next Friday and we're definitely going to try and stop at some factories for goodies.
Posted by E
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Am I Out of My Head or Am I Out of My Mind?
Yeah, so the Austin band Fastball opened for Barack Obama last night. Fastball! I mean, the last time they were cool was when I was still hoping Dawson and Joey would get together.

Men of the Week
Barack Obama, back in Austin
M!chael Ault
Jay Root

Snippet from Stiles: Stayin' Alive
I was about to turn my phone off for the night, but I didn't want you to think I killed myself.
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Da Boys

Yeah, I can't even explain how this happened except to say I have one REALLY good friend in South Carolina. It's the Thanksgiving Day game and they're serving turkey and all the fixins in the suite. I'm not sure whether I'm more excited about the game, or the spread.
Posted by E
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The Purge, Part 4

The Purge project aims to take a look at the email retention policies of state agencies and offices beyond the Governor's, but the Governor's office policy of deleting every seven days continues to drive additional questions.

See Kuff and Vince for some of their concerns.

The Star-Telegram reports the policy will stay in effect:

Just asking for government records triggers a requirement that they be preserved, so Perry has temporarily halted the automatic erasures to give staffers time to comply with the request, officials said. Once that happens, and after installing more sophisticated computer software, [Perry spokesman Robert] Black said Perry will resume enforcement of a seven-day retention schedule for e-mail.
The Governor's office has argued that it creates too much electronic clutter to save everything, and that redacting emails when they're requested is laborious, since they can only redact hard copies.

"There might be other exceptions to the PIA that we must assert, thus making redacting necessary. Our office can only redact hard copies of the documents," Perry Asst. General Counsel Chelsea Thornton wrote.

But the Texas Department of Transportation, TXDOT -- is doing what the Governor's office says cannot be done. The open-records-crusader, John Washburn, pointed me to TXDOT's testimonial on the website of its consultant, Messaging Architects. Not only does TXDOT keep its emails, it can electronically search and sort them from its archives.

As a state agency, TxDOT needs to be compliant to the Texas Public Information Act, which was designed to provide access to public information, including email messages and other electronically delivered documents. To fulfill this requirement in the most cost-effective way, TxDOT needed an enterprise-class solution capable of processing over 11,000 GroupWise mailboxes while also providing quick and easy access to the contents of archived mailboxes. In addition, given the scope of the project, access to expert-level GroupWise technical support in the deployment phase was seen as a priority.
It seems even TXDOT -- an agency roundly criticized for its secrecy -- has found a permanent home for its emails in order to comply with the TPIA.
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Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm...
There's a KFC/Wing Stop across the street. (BTW, why must my fast food restaurants be hybrid restaurants?)
Outside the restaurant(s) there is a marquee that says "HBBQ SNAKERS $3.99".
I assume the "H" stands for honey, but what are "snakers"? I think they mean SNACKERS! It's clear they aren't out of the letter "C" - there are no other C's in the marquee. Someone must have just omitted the C by mistake, and yet, no one has fixed it for a week. Should I walk in and talk to someone?
Posted by E
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The Purge, Part 3
It sounds like we must have touched a nerve with the Purge project, which examines our state officials/agencies and what they're doing to your public records. The open-government crusader, John Washburn, has now been interviewed by the Star-Telegram and an Austin radio station wants to talk to him, too.

Meanwhile, we shall soldier on in our learning.

As I mentioned in earlier Purge entries, each state agency/governmental office establishes its own retention schedule for all of its records, and creates a time frame to archive or delete depending on subject of the record. This is the retention schedule of the Texas Governor's Office, which I've uploaded to a divshare account because it was too big for google docs.

It's lengthy, but take a look at schedules are 1.1.007 and 1.1.008. (Pages 14 and 15 on the pdf):

1.1.007 Correspondence - Administrative
Incoming/outgoing and internal correspondence, in any format, pertaining to the formulation, planning, implementation, interpretation, modification, or redefinition of the programs, services, or projects of an agency and the administrative regulations, policies, and procedures that govern them.

1.1.008 Correspondence - General
Non-administrative incoming/outgoing and internal correspondence, in any media, pertaining to or arising from the routine operations of the policies, programs, services, or projects of an agency.

The Governor's established retention period for correspondence (in any media and format) is for the term of his office plus one day -- not seven days. The term ends in early 2011. So, is the Governor's office violating its own retention policy by deleting its emails every week? It says no. Here's spokeswoman Krista Moody:
Official correspondence, such as constituent inquiries and contracts, are saved in some format until the end-of-term. Transitory correspondence, according to the Texas State Library, is communication that is only useful for a limited amount of time and then is no longer needed. This correspondence is exempt from the end-of-term retention policy.

An example of this would be back and forth emails between multiple people trying to set up a meeting time. Once the meeting is set, the emails are no longer needed or useful.

This seems to open up some new questions. The office is creating a distinction within their own public records, between "Official Correspondence" and "Transitory Correspondence". Who deems whether something is "official" versus "transitory"? Each individual employee.

So Perry's office says that it is letting individuals within a public office decide whether something "is needed" for the public record or not. The example about setting a meeting could very well be important public information -- what if the emails "setting up a meeting time" actually discussed having lunch with a powerful lobbyist with interests related to a measure the Governor was pushing?
What is "transitory" and therefore "not needed" to one person, may be something "official" in the eyes of another. What's the danger in saving it all, for a longer period of time?

Anyone want to weigh in on this? The journey continues...

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The Purge Moves Into the Mainstream

The original aim of my meandering reporting journey, The Purge, was to question whether it was good policy for our state's government offices to be routinely deleting its email communication within a short time, and not backing it up. Emails are part of the public record, only, they weren't staying around very long in the Texas Governor's office.

The question got a Wisconsinite named John Washburn's attention, and he got the attention of the Star-Telegram, which is now featuring this very issue on its front page.

Background - Washburn read The Purge: Part One and decided to begin challenging the Texas Governor's office and its email deletion policy, by routinely asking for all of those public documents BEFORE they were deleted. The Governor's general counsel replied, asking him to narrow his request and saying the emails could only be available on paper -- not electronically. Washburn shot back, and that's where we're at right now.

The Purge Series:
The Purge: Part One
The Purge Makes the Carnival
The Purge: Part Two

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First Off...
I have becoming a bloggin' fool. Lately, I find myself staring at computer screens much more than usual, typing fast and furiously, posting dispatches for the work blog. But my first and true love is 67 Degrees. Never forget your roots.

Conversations in an Elevator
SCENE: Disgruntled worker lady enters elevator
ME: Hi.
HER: Hi. [Sighs. Suddenly...] I don't know if I can work for those lawyers any longer.
ME: Oh. Which lawyers?
HER: On second thought, I better not tell you.

Now, she was coming from the 9th floor, which is where the FWST and DMN offices are. That only leaves Exx0n's governmental relations office. Must investigate further.
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The Purge, Part 2

A few weeks ago, we began the reporting journey I dubbed The Purge, which focused on public records -- specifically email retention policies -- of governmental bodies in Texas. The Governor's office was singled out, because the impetus for this examination was the Missouri Governor and his office's practices.

The Texas Governor's Office routinely deletes its emails (which are considered public records) every seven days. It backs up some of the emails with hard copies, but not all of them. A retention schedule which classifies the emails based on topic or state agency is in place that specifies how soon various emails go bye-bye.

Enter John Washburn. He's a man who believes in open government. He lives in Wisconsin. I don't know much about him besides that. He saw The Purge, Part One when it was promoted on an open records wiki, The Carnival of Open Records. After learning of the Texas situation, Washburn was inspired to request email communication from the Texas Governor's office weekly, before it was deleted. Below is Washburn's first request:

Dear Ms. Counts

I must first state my displeasure that the current policy of the Office of the Governor of Texas is to destroy public records after seven days. Public records such as e-mails should archived for at least one year. The retention period should be longer given the simplicity of archiving electronic data.

The following are requests for public records under the Texas Public Information Act (Texas Government Code, Chapter 552)

1. I would like a copy of all governmental e-mail (electronic mail) received by the Office of the Governor of Texas which was received on or after 12:00 am (midnight) Friday, November 2, 2007 and received before 12:00 am (midnight) Tuesday, November 6, 2007.
2. I would like a copy of all governmental e-mail (electronic mail) sent by the Office of the Governor of Texas which was sent on or after 12:00 am (midnight) Friday, November 2, 2007 and sent before 12:00 am (midnight) Tuesday, November 6, 2007.

Since, by definition, e-mail is electronic, I would request that all the records produced as part of these PIA requests be provided in electronic form.

Today, Washburn received a reply from the Governor's office, to which he replied. See the she-said-he-said after the jump. It's interesting stuff.

The Texas Governor's Office to Washburn. (Emphasis mine)

Dear Mr. Washburn:

The Office of the Governor on November 6, 2007 received your request under the Public Information Act (the "PIA") for information related to e-mail.
First, while you are correct that our e-mail system automatically deletes e-mails after a seven-day period, hard copies may exist beyond that time in certain circumstances. Because many e-mails are printed and maintained in hard copy format, we seek clarification as to whether you would like your request to include these hard copies. If so, your request would require our staff to go through virtually every file in our offices.

Hence, providing this information to you will require several days of labor on the part of public employees of the State of Texas. (Please also note that under Section 111.63 of the Texas Administrative Code, and Section 552.261 and other provisions of the Public Information Act, our office must recoup some of these costs to the public from the requestor.) Please consider whether you truly wish for the State's public employees to undertake this task.

Additionally, many of the e-mails that are still on our electronic system will need to be redacted before they are provided to you. Our office commonly discusses internal policy deliberations over e-mail. Some e-mails could be attorney-client privileged. There might be other exceptions to the PIA that we must assert, thus making redacting necessary. Our office can only redact hard copies of the documents. Thus, these emails must be printed and redacted, at a cost of $0.10 per page. Due to the cost and size of the request, it might be beneficial to narrow your request to a specific e-mail topic or to specific individuals’ e-mails.

The Governor is a strong supporter of open government, and this office is ready and willing to respond to any and all public information requests. However, we must require that requests have sufficient specificity in the enumeration of what information is being sought, so that we may fulfill our duties under the PIA.

Please note that under Section 552.222 of the Texas Government Code, we will consider this request withdrawn if we do not receive a written response from you regarding this clarification within 60 days of the date of this letter.

If you have any questions or need additional information, or if you would like to submit a clarified request, you may contact me at the address below or at (512) 463-1788.


Chelsea Thornton
Assistant General Counsel

Washburn's Response to the TX Governor's Office:
I was quite clear in my request. I want the electronic records. The operative sentence from the original requests was:
“Since, by definition, e-mail is electronic, I would request that all the records produced as part of these PIA requests be provided in electronic form.”

Printed versions are not acceptable. Printed versions are not what was asked for. Redact the electronic records as other states do. My suggestion is to keep a complete archive of emails and also maintain a Public Records Version of this archive such that all records covered by an exemption are redacted or removed. Then PIA requests can be fulfilled from the Public Records Archive without the ruse of creating paper. Iron Mountain, Inc or another competent records management company can help you meet these PIA obligations.

On the matter of changing the request: I am not inclined to narrow this already very narrow request for your convenience. The request was specifically tailored to facilitate the identification and aggregation of the specified emails using tools commonly available to modern email servers and applications. I neither retract nor alter my original PIA request.

I would like to know the number of pages which would be printed should I change my mind and consider the ludicrous option of paying $0.10 per page. It is my understanding that under TSG 552.2615 you are required to itemize copying and other charges if the total is in excess of $40. Making vague statements such as: “Due to the cost and size of the request, it might be beneficial to narrow your request to a specific e-mail topic or to specific individuals’ e-mails”, in my opinion, do not meet this requirement. Or is this vague, unspecified cost you are referring to less than $40? It may be so since a CD-ROMs are cheap. If the total cost is less than $40 dollars, present the amount of the bill so I may pay it and conclude this request.

I consider this email to be a written response pursuant to TGC 552.222, moreover the records in question now cannot be destroyed until matter is resolved.

As a side note I must thank you for using tactics 2, 3, 4, and 7 listed in this document: A Guide To Hiding Records: How to Avoid Complying with Wisconsin's Open Records Law (http://www.gojefferson.com/banner/opinion/foust/hiding/index.html) I especially enjoy the near verbatim excerpt from tactic 7.

If someone asks for an electronic record in electronic form, print it out. Database on paper is almost worthless for research, but the printed version probably complies with the legal requirements for preservation of the record.

In Liberty,

John Washburn

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Snippet from Stiles: If I Did it
Me: We're about to see (the New Yorker/CNN's) Jeffrey Toobin at the book festival. He's talking about the Supreme Court. What should I ask him?
Him: "Did OJ do it?"Be completely serious. Don't smile. Just stare at him.

Men of the Week
Carl "Buy my book" Bernstein
Joe "Suck it, Rudy" Biden
Justices Breyer and Souter (tie)
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World Collision
Omigosh. Roy from The Office is talking to Meredith on Grey's Anatomy right now.
Posted by E
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