Monday, May 14, 2007

Fort Wayne Government is opaque rather then transparent

On February 15th, 2007 Mayor Graham Richard promised me in a public forum that his office would answer all of my questions about Harrison Square regarding the specific financing of the project.

The project was approved on April 16th, 2007 and the Mayor's office chose not to provide me with the information I requested.

On April 16th I filed seven Freedom of Information Requests with the City Attorney. On April 16th I personally verified that The City Attorney's Office received my FOIA's.

Today is May 14th and I still have no answers. It has been three months since The Mayor promised me that I would have my questions answered and I am still waiting.

Our Mayor should be ashamed of himself.

I am not an attorney and I am not accustomed to having to file Freedom of Information Requests to obtain information that I have been promised by public officials. My simple reading of the law leads me to believe that the City must respond to my request within 20 working days.

Today was the 20th working day after my request for information. I am not sure if this means that The Mayor's office is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act or not. Based on my reading of the law I would guess that they are now in violation of the law; however, I really do not know.

It will be interesting to see how Kevin Knuth responds to this. He has filed a large number of FOIA requests and he has made it clear that he feels they should be responded to promptly.

I am also interested in what the rest of the readers of this blog think.

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think. I personally think that open government is critical to Democracy and I am extremely disappointed in the Mayor's Office and especially with their legal department.

Mike Sylvester, CPA

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mike - I also think that our city's legal department lacks any sense of law - boy , does that sound awful - It appears that they are attempting to make all activities of all city funtionaries look "legal" or at least "declare them legal". Witness the flippant reply at the public hearing of the request from Councilman Don Schmidt about the legality of closing the deals on the properties in the Harrison Square area before the "two independant appraisals" required by the statute. I have a request in to Pat Roller for financial information on the Jefferson Illinois EDA. I need it before next Monday's Public Hearing of the Redevelopment Commission. I am not betting that I will get it in any reasonable time, but will camp on Pat's door on Thursday & Friday for sure. John B. Kalb

Stan Matuska said...

Mike, I admire your tenacity and dedication to this and other causes.

I think there are many problems with local, county, state and national governments starting with size. The more tangled the web, the harder it is to get anything of value out of it. The left hand doesn't know what the right had is doing, and they don't even know what they are supposed to be doing a good deal of the time anyway. And if they don't know, we, the citizen have no clue what is right, what is wrong, and who is responsible. " I am not sure if this means that The Mayor's office is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act or not." Case in point. How are we supposed to know? Who is supposed to know? How are we supposed to know who is supposed to know so we can know?

Sometimes I wish we could start over with a common set of laws, that are common knowledge and build from that...again. All organizations of government, at all levels, are so confusing to the layman, that we HAVE to accept what they tell us as gospel - who else is going to refute it, after all? And if they refute it, where's the proof of how the laws are supposed to be interpreted?

And Mike, even IF you get your questions answered, do you honestly believe it will change anything??? I don't want to be a pessamist, but what can you do? They say "vote", that's what you can do - but that doesn't make government any smaller, or more understandable. We can only hope it makes it more honest.

Mike Kole said...

I think that only when someone has something to hide do they drag their feet with the answers. I know this: when my son has a good grade on an exam, he rushes to show the result. When it's not so good, he doesn't even mention its' existence.

This could just be "working at the speed of government". Not excusing, mind you, just explaining. With no profit motive, what drives an elected official to respond to an irritant, er, citizen (cough)? If there isn't an inherent work ethic, then shame may be your only recourse.

If this seems like unresponsiveness (it is), then think about how bad it gets when you extend from city level to county, to state, and then to federal.

Kevin Knuth said...

Mike,

I agree- you should have your information- but even with FOIA that can be tricky.

First a technicality- a FOIA is REALLY only valid if there are federal dollars involved. Everything else falls under Indiana's Open Door Law. However, most entities realize the laws are pretty much one and the same- just without the federal dollars involved.

The tricky part is- the law does NOT require them to hand over anything. It does, however, force them to tell you why they will not- you will recall that part of the Shine incident records are protected as "investigatory" records and are not deemed to be public.

The other thing is- they may not have the answers to your questions (I have no idea what you have asked them for). If you are looking for detailed answers to specific questions, it may well be that they fall outside the available info.

One more thing- just because you ask a question, does not mean they have to give you an answer. For example- if I ask how many tons of asphalt they used to pave Main Street- they do not have to look up the number for me. I would have to request "any and all documents regarding purchasing of asphalt for Main Street since 2001".

A final note- you should contact the Indiana Public Access Counselor (http://www.in.gov/pac/). They should be able to tell you if the city has violated the law or not. Further, if they rule in your favor, and you prevail in court, the city is then forced to pick up your legal fees!

Jeff Pruitt said...

Mike,

You are more generous than the law requires. As Knuth said, this is not a FOIA request per se but an open records request from the state. The law is VERY specific and says that they must respond to your request within 7 business days (IC 5-14-3-9).

The Public Access Counselor is a great resource for these issues. From the PAC handbook:

"If a request is mailed or sent by facsimile, a public agency must respond within 7 calendar days of the receipt of that request...

If a request is made in writing, by facsimile or through enhanced access, or if an oral request that was denied is renewed in writing or by facsimile, the public agency must deny the request in writing. A denial must include a statement of the specific statutory reason for nondisclosure of the information, and the name and title of the person responsible for the denial."


I don't think there is any doubt that the city is in violation of the law. I would suggest you e-mail the PAC to file a complaint and ask for an opinion.

This worked for me as after I presented the city w/ the PAC response they agreed they needed to respond within 7 days. Of course they didn't respond until I went to the Mayor's "Report to the People" session and publicly asked him to provide me the documents.

Doug H. Sec, Lib Pty AC said...

Mike,

Just a thought here.

I remember from class a llloooonnnggg time ago that if you own shares in a company the company must disclose all of its financial information since you have a direct interest in how the company is doing. You are, in a small part, owner of that company as a share holder. This applies no matter how FEW shares you hold and as I recall this has been upheld in court.

Why not attack the the other party involved? If the city won't give you their information buy a single share of Hardball Capital (if possible) and request a review of their records.

I am certain that they will be more than happy to share their financial acumen, data, and projections with a fellow investor. :)

Just a thought...

Respectfully,

Doug Horner

Anonymous said...

Doug Horner - I'm afraid that Hardball Capital is a closed group - No one else can or is wanted - period!! John B. Kalb