Oregon Hall air quality

Diane Dietz has the story in the RG:

… they’d tried for months to get the administration to hold an open meeting for Oregon Hall employees so that all the workers with physical complaints could air their concerns. 

But it wasn’t until after DeFazio called UO President Michael Gottfredson that university officials called a meeting, they said.

But some Oregon Hall workers are afraid of job retaliation if they disclose their symptoms, McNelly said. She is a steward in the union that represents UO’s classified employees. 

“People are scared to come forward and fill out information and say, ‘I’m having trouble and here’s my room number, or here’s where I sit and on what floor,’” McNelly said. “They don’t trust the process, and so they suffer.”

Dave Hubin’s public records office stalled for months and tried to charge me hundreds of dollars for the air quality documents, which people in OH asked me to ask for. They were afraid of retaliation. Hubin wouldn’t budge until DeFazio wrote Gottfredson. Here’s hoping the new UO Ombudsman, who reportedly will be in place by summer, will make it easier and quicker to resolve situations like this. 4/8/2013.

(Fourth and fifth updates) Oregon Hall air quality letter

Fourth and Fifth updates, 10/7/2012 and 10/8/2012:

From: David Hubin
Subject: FW: [UO Matters] New comment on (Update) Oregon Hall air quality letter.
Date: October 7, 2012 5:42:32 PM PDT
[UO Matters],
Perhaps you are already aware of this, but your representation in UO Matters of the note I sent to you last Friday (included below) was incomplete and therefore misleading.  Although you specifically mention that I convey that Public Records Office is not equipped to monitor downloads, you neglect to include that in that same email I also assured you that we would not seek that capacity.  In case my stance was not clear enough, with this email I want to assure you that I would never tolerate any attempt to track who looks at documents.  
I am disappointed your blog entry did not capture the full intent and message of my email.
Dave

Dave’s disappointed in me? Actually, things are worse than this. The PRO office under Hubin’s direction has been insistent on making sure that the names of people requesting public records are posted on the PRO website, to the point of refusing to accept anonymous requests. This is why I got involved in this in the first place – the people who wanted the air quality expenditure documents were afraid they would be outed. And they would have been, thanks to Hubin’s policy.

While a few – as in maybe one or two – other universities post the names of requestors, I don’t know of any other Oregon agencies that do. As one of hundreds of counter-examples, the Oregon Secretary State has an anonymous system for reporting fraud and abuse, run by an outside contractor to ensure confidentiality: https://oregonsos.alertline.com/gcs/welcome. Not exactly for public records, but you get the idea. Hubin and UO’s PRO don’t allow anonymity because _____?

In addition, Dave’s response avoids the issue of whether or not UO administrators *outside the PRO* have monitored access to the PRO website, or use of the FT tool on Duckweb. I think they have, and may still.

And then there’s this email I just got from the PRO director, in response to a request to get a copy of the list of UO personal services contracts that SEIU had requested. They ignored my request for a simple email with the pdf, and told me:

From: “Office of Public Records” Subject: Request Acknowledgement by Office of Public RecordsDate: October 8, 2012 7:38:53 AM PDT

Dear [UO Matters] 

Your request has been received by the Office of Public Records. The request has been assigned tracking # ‘2013-PRR-068’, please log into your account and review your submission.  

The application address is https://jwj-app1.uoregon.edu:8443/palMain.aspx.
Thank you,  

Office of Public Records

That’s right, you need to register your name with the PRO, in order to see the public records that the office has already provided to someone else. (With a few exceptions for docs in their “reading room”.) Because _______?


Third update: Here’s my link to a dropbox folder with the Oregon Hall air quality documents: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9ii40vp6u83ulbi/5PWYD8YBnS. This took a few seconds to create, it’s a free account for me, and if I get any new documents it’s drag and drop. In contrast the system the UO Public Records office set up cost $25,000 and still does not work properly.

The documents I’ve received from the PRO and posted are the result of this request 8 weeks ago.

Subject: public records request, Oregon Hall air qualityDate: August 16, 2012 12:36:18 PM PDT
To: Lisa Thornton  

Hi Lisa 

This is a public records request for an itemized listing of money spent or budgeted to improve air quality in Oregon Hall, from July 1 2010 to the present.

Lisa Thornton at the PR office did next to nothing on this request for a month, then gave me a $600 estimate and refused a fee waiver request. Then after DeFazio got involved Dave Hubin folded and promised a fee wavier. Two weeks after that, we see what they were trying to charge $600 for – 3 mostly empty pieces of paper. 
This episode perfectly captures what the UO administration thinks about transparency. They will waste thousands and thousands of UO dollars on legal fees, staff time, and software to make the release of documents more difficult. The PRO budget is $240,000. But they won’t waive a few hundred dollars of fees, unless you publicly humiliate them first.


Another update: A commenter says:

great, so they can track who looks at the documents – sweet

My response:

I just got an email from Dave Hubin, asking me to post a note from him, saying that the Public Records Office “is not equipped to monitor downloads” or something to that effect. I asked him to post that here himself, but for some reason he is reluctant to do so. 

I don’t think Dave is correct. UO can log network use and presumably does so as a matter of course. And they are not obligated to tell UO employees who looks at those logs.

So, my understanding is that if someone on the UO system downloaded a document from the PR website, there would be a log which would show the IP address of the downloader and the document. If someone off the system went to the PR website, the log would show that as well – though it could be very difficult to match the IP with a name.

Would UO ever do this? [Would the public records office?] Well, UO’s previous PR Officer, Liz Denecke, once commented to me on the fact I had used the BANNER financial transparency tool to obtain some spending data. I had, and I was surprised she knew it. I asked her if she got that information from access logs. She would not tell me.

Update: Most of the planet uses dropbox to distribute documents. Simple, and free (or $100 a year if you’ve got a serious data jag). But not UO’s public records office. Liz Denecke paid someone $25,000 to write some weird code that enables them to post documents without letting google index them, and they are still trying to make it work. Talk about sunk costs! At 5 today I received this email explaining how to use their system to get the air quality public records. Good luck:

The records responsive to your request for “an itemized listing of money spent or budgeted to improve air quality in Oregon Hall, from July 1 2010 to present [8/16/12]” have been posted to the Public Records Reading Room, located on the website for the Office of Public Records (http://publicrecords.uoregon.edu/).

To view the records  click the “Request/Check Status Public Records” link on the bottom left hand corner of the website.  This will bring you to the Public Access Link (PAL) screen, from here select “Public Records Reading Room”. Select the document type “Oregon Hal” and search. For best results leave the asterisk in the “Document Name” field.

10/4/2012: This was sent to me by an anonymous OH worker, I believe it was something of a group effort. I was holding off until the PR office released the spending documents, which they have now promised to do at no cost. But it’s now 7 weeks since the request and no joy, so here goes.

You walk through the front doors and you are immediately hit with an odd odor and thick air,  you know you just walked into Oregon Hall. You climb the stairs and the air seems to get worse with each flight.

Air quality has been an issue in Oregon Hall for years, rumor has it, after the building was first built in 1971 that major renovations took place and special vents were added because Oregon Hall was labeled a “sick building.” 

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of Sick Building Syndrome:
“(SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast, the term “building related illness” (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants. 

A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ). Often this condition is temporary, but some buildings have long-term problems. Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems are a result of poor building design or occupant activities.”

The EPA also describes the following symptoms that many individuals suffer from when working in a sick building: “Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.”

Campus Operations has received complaints for years regarding the indoor air quality of Oregon Hall and they have ignored employees cries. The same symptoms listed by the EPA are the same complaints that Oregon Hall employs have suffered from for years. They have ignored employees who have headaches, nausea, dizziness, people who have visited numerous doctors, finding no relief. Campus Operations has ignored, stood back, insulted and humiliated individuals for years. Enough is enough.

 In late August, a letter was written to Peter DeFazio asking for his help regarding the dysfunctional system of Campus Operations, Environmental Health and Safety. Oregon Hall employees had asked for a Town Hall meeting over and over again and each time, Environmental Health and Safety declined such a meeting. 

Then, with two days notice, just a few days after Peter DeFazio has been contacted, a Town Hall Meeting was scheduled. The meeting was held in Willamette Hall, which I personally found interesting, if there was a problem you wanted to remedy, wouldn’t you meet at the source? Why didn’t Campus Operations want to meet in Oregon Hall, was the air to bad for them? Come, breath my air. Come, get sick, then perhaps you will succeed in finding the problem with Oregon Hall.

At first, I found the meeting to be rather ridiculous, Campus Operations on one side of the aisle, Oregon Hall employees on the other. There stood Jean Britton from Oregon OSHA ramble on about, “you should be on the look out for contaminants.” I wouldn’t know what a contaminate was if it walked up to me said “Hello,” and tried to buy me a drink. Here is the simple truth, I don’t work in Environmental Health and Safety, I work in Oregon Hall. The resolution to this issue, is not mine to find, that is for Environmental Health and Safety. 

One really interesting fact, when Jean described all the symptoms that Oregon Hall employees listed, they are the exact symptoms listed on the EPA website in association with Sick Building Syndrome. The more one reads about sick building syndromes, HVAC systems, the simple fact, may be that Oregon Hall has been remodeled to many times and the air intakes cannot function properly. Per the EPA website,  “Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures.” The building was  built forty years ago and has had numerous remodels through out the building.

Honestly, I left the meeting completely disillusioned and I felt hopeless, especially after noticing George Hecht leave the meeting before it was even over. Wasn’t this meeting important? But then, an apology email from Don Elting and George Hecht arrived and a flutter of hope washed over me, can there be fresh air in the horizon? I hope so. Apparently, an Oregon Hall website is going to be created and a survey will be offered to Oregon Hall employees to complete. The logic behind this,  is that with everyone completing the survey, the culprit can be found.

I believe change will only happen, if, and only if, all Oregon Hall employees stand together, stand firm and hold those in Campus Operations to their promise. If we get lazy, if we do not question, if we do nothing, we will be breathing the same horrible, thick, dirty, air. I do not know the long term affects breathing this air will do to us, but I know one thing, it will not end well, for any of us. Change must take place and the time is now.

-Holding my breath

Hubin caves on fees for OH air quality docs

9/25/2012: Sorry, long post. The gist? If you want action at UO go to Pete DeFazio and your union – the latter is DeFazio’s advice. While Oregon’s public records law website says:

Government transparency is vital to a healthy democracy. Public scrutiny helps ensure that government spends tax dollars wisely and works for the benefit of the people. Oregon’s Public Records and Meetings Laws underscore the state’s commitment to transparency. Government records are available to the public, and governing bodies must conduct deliberations and make decisions in the open.

that’s the theory, not UO’s practice.

I made a public records request for documents on expenditures to address Oregon Hall air quality on August 16. A month later I got a few scraps of spreadsheets from the PR Office, and a letter saying that if I wanted more info the office, which reports to UO President Mike Gottfredson via Dave Hubin, would charge me hundreds of dollars. They told me that by their standards the public interest did not justify a fee wavier. Meanwhile the OH people went to Congressman Pete DeFazio, who told Gottfredson to get on it:

A week after this letter George Hecht was organizing public meetings and hiring a consultant to dig into the problems. An actual air-quality consultant, not a Robin Holmes manipulate-public-opinion consultant.

But the public records office still refused to waive the fees. I pushed this with Lisa Thornton during her interview for UO’s Public Record’s Officer position a few weeks ago. I got some weird pushback from UO Journalism and Communications Dean Tim Gleason, who was also at the interviews. I don’t understand why Gleason has decided to devote his time to trying to weaken public records access and transparency at UO, instead of helping expose and stop Robin Holmes from spending $17,000 to $55,000 in public funds to manipulate the student vote, but I’m sure he’s got his reasons.

Ms Thornton is a competent person, formerly interim and now promoted to the permanent PRO job. I’m sure she has just been following the orders she got from Hubin and Berdahl on how to delay and frustrate people looking for public records. And on Friday, she suddenly caved and gave a full fee waiver. I’ll post the docs when I get them. This is the first time UO has waived fees in response to a public interest argument since Hubin and Berdahl cracked down on public records access in May. I’ll call it a 5% improvement in transparency, still a long way from where we were with Lariviere, and even farther from where UC-I was under Gottfredson.

While UO will stonewall release of legitimate public records that might embarrass some administrator, it has a huge and expensive public relations apparatus and many staffers dedicated to putting out stuff to try and UO’s administrators look good. That work is so clearly impossible that it must pay very well indeed, right, Provost Bean?

My guess is that Thornton and Hubin waived the fees on these documents for one simple reason – someone in JH looked at them and figured that their release would not be as embarrassing as continued stonewalling in the face of DeFazio’s letter above and the persistence of those who work in OH. That’s not exactly the public-interest cost-benefit test the law envisions, but if that what it takes, this blog is plenty willing to help supply the necessary levels of embarrassment.

Oregon Hall air not any more transparent than Johnson Hall

9/19/2012 update: DeFazio gets results. I wonder if this means the UO Public Records Office is still going to refuse to give a public-interest fee waiver on the public records?

From: oregonhall-bounces@lists.uoregon.edu [mailto:oregonhall-bounces@lists.uoregon.edu] On Behalf Of Oregon Hall NewsSent: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 3:11 PM
To:oregonhall@lists.uoregon.eduCc: George Hecht; Donald Elting; Adam Jones; Debbie Cadigan
Subject: oregonhall: Oregon Hall Air Quality Update

Hello

Last week Campus Operations and Environmental Health and Safety held two informational sessions to discuss the recent OR-OSHA inspection findings regarding the air quality in Oregon Hall.  The meetings discussed the Wise Steps findings. Wise Steps, Inc. is an industrial hygiene contractor that has also completed air sampling and other inspections as well as done research to determine the nature of the Oregon Hall building’s air problems.

Unfortunately, neither OR-OSHA nor Wise Steps investigations were successful in defining a source for the problems. All readings that were taken of various potential contaminates were within allowable standards.

I am writing each of you in Oregon Hall to keep you informed as to the next steps.

Both Campus Operations and Environmental Health and Safety are committed to working together with the different entities and users to continue research and mitigation efforts for the sources of the problem and to develop a strategy to address these issues as they become known.

Oregon Hall has a very complex air intake, distribution and exiting system. There are numerous fan systems and controls that bring air in and filter, add heat or cooling and finally exhaust air out of the building. Over the years there have been many changes to the controls and systems to try to address remodeling that has taken place as well as air distribution and other changes to the building.

From what we have heard from building users, some building areas are experiencing minimal issues with various aspects of the air supply, while others are experiencing significant issues. We need to more clearly define the systems that are doing functioning properly, and those that need our priority attention.

In furtherance of that goal, within the next 10 days EHS will create and distribute a confidential survey for all building occupants to have an opportunity to respond to air quality issues and concerns. EHS has recently hired Adam Jones, an industrial hygienist who has performed intensive air quality evaluations in his career. Once Adam evaluates survey results, we will be able to determine the specific areas in which we need to work more intensively. Recipients’ names will remain confidential so all may have the opportunity to respond openly to the survey.

An Oregon Hall building website will be set up this fall on the Campus Operations site. This will provide a venue to share information and provide transparency.
We will have a description of the building’s systems, a history of the design issues, a brief history of systems’ work through the years and a building graphic that will help describe how the building operates.   We will notify everyone when this website is operational.

We will post the results of the continuing investigation to define the problem areas and develop a remedy.

We realize and are sorry that Oregon Hall has proven to be a difficult working site. We are as baffled as you as to the source causing these issues but want you to know that we are committed to continuing our efforts to solve these problems.

George Hecht
Associate VP Finance & Administration
Campus Operations

Don Elting
Interim Director
Environmental Health and Safety
Enterprise Risk Services

9/13/2012 update:

Word is that Congressman Defazio has now contacted President Gottfredson on behalf of his constituents. So I guess the lesson for next time is just to skip George Hecht and the broken UO public records process and go straight to Pete.

9/12/2012 update v3:

Dave Hubin, you’ve been in charge of the public records office for more than a year. This is pathetic. President Gottfredson, please find someone to fix our Public Records office. And put your real email address in the UO directory.

I made the public records request for documents on past and planned spending on Oregon Hall air quality 4 weeks ago yesterday. I’d hoped to get something from the public records office before today’s meetings with the DEHS facilitator and OH staff. Sorry.

I got these at 4PM today. Spreadsheet one and two. It took the UO public records office a month and a day provide the information below. That’s all that’s in these files. The office is holding out for hundreds of dollars, and additional delays, before they will provide anything more substantive. Their letter is below. They’ve denied my request for a fee waiver – not enough public interest. But then they’ve denied every public interest fee waiver request anyone has made for the past 10 months, with the same claim. Most reporters have given up on even asking – a fact that UO’s interim PR officer used as part of her argument yesterday, to claim she was running the office well. No transparency, no trust.

Letter from PRO:

Attached, please find documents from Campus Operations showing money spent on the air quality at Oregon Hall from July 2010 to August 2012.  This report was able to be completed fairly quickly, and is being provided to you at no cost.

The report indicates the work performed by Facility Services and Environmental Health and Services.  Capital Construction has also been involved in work done at Oregon Hall. They will require a significant amount of employee time to respond to this request.  Should you like the information from Capital Construction, the actual cost of responding to the request is $236.17.  Upon receipt of a check made payable to the University of Oregon in that amount the office will proceed to locate, copy, and provide the records you have requested that are not exempt from disclosure.  Your check may be sent to the attention of Office of Public Records, 6207 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-6207.

Please note that if the cost of preparing the documents for you is less than the estimate, we will refund the difference.  If the cost of preparing the records for you exceeds the estimate, however, you may be charged for the difference.

Thank you for contacting us with your request. 

9/11/2012 update v2:

There are a bunch of emails flying around about the meeting Wed. Some people are clearly worried that they may face retaliation from supervisors for getting involved in this issue, e.g.:

“Thank you for trying to make this a more inclusive process. Given the response, I think what needs to be done is this: the staff in each department in Oregon Hall, e.g., Financial Aid, Registrar, Admissions, need to receive an email from their supervisor and/or director explicitly inviting them to attend and telling them that this will count as work time if they choose to attend. Otherwise, we will still feel too unsafe to go.”

Still no documents from UO. The staff have apparently asked Pete Defazio’s office to get involved. And I just heard from PR Officer Lisa Thornton that she expects to have some cost data available very soon, and at no charge.

9/10/2012 update: It’s now more than 3 weeks since this public records request was filed, and still no documents. Apparently the PRO is doing what they can, but they don’t have much of a stick. Too bad Oregon doesn’t have a public records law like the one that just passed in Rhode Island, which imposes $1,000 fines on recalcitrant officials who create unreasonable delays. That’s right, UO’s now not only behind Yemen on public records access, we’re even behind Rhode Island, thanks to Dave Hubin and Bob Berdahl.

Why the delay? Word from JH is that there will be a meeting Wednesday with OH staff to discuss the air quality issues. I assume someone doesn’t want the staff affected by this problem to go into that meeting armed with any actual information.

I particularly like the fact they aren’t holding these meetings in OH – air’s too bad for the facilitator?

From: oregonhall-bounces@lists.uoregon.edu [mailto:oregonhall-bounces@lists.uoregon.edu] On Behalf Of Oregon Hall NewsSent: Monday, September 10, 2012 4:48 PM
Cc: Donald Elting
Subject: oregonhall: Oregon Hall Informational Meeting

As a follow up to the recent OR-OSHA inspection Environmental Health and Safety and Campus Operations are offering two informational sessions about the findings and efforts to identify areas of concern. Questions will be welcome after the presentation, however this is not an avenue to express complaints; normal channels continue to be available to express those concerns.
All employees who work in Oregon Hall are invited to one of the two informational meetings. Please coordinate in your respective departments so that the office does not close, but that anyone with the desire to attend one of the meetings is able to.
Meeting times are:
Wednesday, September 12, 2012; 9:00 – 9:30 am
Wednesday, September 12, 2012; 9:45 – 10:15 am
Location:
Willamette Hall 100 (Lecture Hall at the Southwest entrance)

Meeting Facilitator:
Don Elting, Interim Director Environmental Health and Safety
541-346-2864

8/29/2012. Back in 2006 a very large group of Oregon Hall staff petitioned the UO administration, asking them to do something about air quality in the building. Mold, etc. But VPFA Frances Dyke had other priorities – like a $2.4 million remodel of Johnson Hall with new AC and wood paneling for her friends.

The problems have continued, and 2 weeks ago folks working there asked me to make a public records request for documents showing what UO had spent and planned to spend to fix it. Simple enough, but they didn’t want to make the request themselves, for fear of retaliation. All the requests are now posted online, so their supervisors can see. So they asked me to make the request because I’ve got tenure, and my name is already mud. No problem, the staff in that building help make my job easier every day, and I am happy to return the favor.

Today I got a response from UO’s public records office, saying it would cost $606 and change to see the documents:

The University of Oregon has received your public records request for “an itemized listing of money spent or budgeted to improve air quality in Oregon Hall, from July 1 2010 to the present” on 08/16/2012, attached. The office has at least some documents responsive to your request.  By this email, the office is providing you with an estimate to respond to your requests.  

The office estimates the actual cost of responding to your request to be $606.73. Upon receipt of a check made payable to the University of Oregon for that amount, the office will proceed to locate, copy, and provide the records you have requested that are not exempt from disclosure.  Your check may be sent to the attention of Office of Public Records, 6207 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-6207.

Should you be interested in lowering the cost of your estimate, I would suggest eliminating the portion of your request relating to the amount budgeted to improve air quality in Oregon Hall, as it comprises the bulk of the estimate. 

Please note that if the cost of preparing the documents for you is less than the estimate, we will refund the difference.  If the cost of preparing the records for you exceeds the estimate, however, you may be charged for the difference.  …

The Oregon DOJ says requests should typically be *fulfilled* in two weeks. But it takes UO 2 weeks just to create an estimate. And $607 is a little rich for our blood, even after that 27 cent discount, so we’ve cut back the request to just ask for what’s already been spent. Someday, and after paying some mysterious amount of money, we might even have some air quality documents to post. Hold your breath.