(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

The buck gets passed to Lisa Thornton:

Updates: As of 10PM today we had 30,200 unique visits for September, thanks mostly to the Geller, Holmes, Bean, and OH stories. This is about what the Daily Emerald advertising rate card has been reporting for their monthly visits when school is in session. Enterprising reporters interested in wide exposure for their stories on UO matters are encouraged to contact our investigative reporting offices. Compensation includes a coffee cup or “Rob Mullens for Provost” pin, and 50% of scotch contributions if you have proof you are over 21.

9/27/2012. Back in May we wrote about how Bob Berdahl made Dave Hubin do the dirty work of rescinding Richard Lariviere’s transparency reforms. And now Hubin, Mike Gottfredson, and Randy Geller are attempting to pass that nasty job on to Lisa Thornton, UO’s recently promoted Public Records Officer. All to help cover up the $17,000 that VP Robin Holmes spent trying to manipulate the students’ vote on paying for a student union expansion.

Holmes would have spent $55,000, except the UO students, Diane Dietz of the RG, Betsy Hammond of the Oregonian, and Scott Carlson of the Chronicle caught her first, and the ridicule stopped it. Gottfredson has a committee meeting Thursday on how to get things back on track. Transparency is not on the agenda.

His office is trying to charge the Register Guard $172.21 for additional EMU documents, and is arguing that the public interest doesn’t justify a fee waiver. This is for a project that will cost $90 million and will be funded by state bonds guaranteed with student fees. Chutzpah:

Thirdly, the office considered the extent to which a waiver would burden the public body.  In this instance, the documents require review by the Office of the General Counsel.  Asking General Counsel to dedicate their limited resources to this request, without compensation, places an undue burden on their office.

Wouldn’t want to cut into our General Counsel and General Counsel Emerita’s party time, or interfere with Geller’s efforts to get more taxpayer money for Frohnmayer.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Lisa Thornton” <pubrec@uoregon.edu>
To: “diane dietz” <diane.dietz@registerguard.com>Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 5:17:08 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Public Records Request 2013-PRR-036
09/18/2012

Dear Ms. Dietz:
On 9/10/12 the office provided you with some records responsive to your request for “documents, emails, etc. pertaining to ‘Berwick’ and the ‘EMU’ or ‘Naming Rights’ and the ‘EMU’.  We also informed you that we were expecting additonal documents that would be responsive to your request.  The office has received the additional documents, however they will require legal review.  As such, the office estimates the actual cost of responding to your request to be $172.21. 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.  

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.  Following is an outline of how costs are determined.   

The office will provide the documents electronically to avoid a copy fee of 25 cents per page.  The office also charges for the actual cost of making public records available.  The charge includes, but is not limited to, staff costs for locating, gathering, summarizing, compiling, reviewing, tailoring or redacting the public records to respond to a request.  The charge may also include the cost of time spent by an attorney in reviewing the public records, redacting material from the public records, or segregating the public records into exempt and nonexempt records.  

The cost of time for each employee is calculated by multiplying the employee’s hourly wage calculation (including benefits expenses) by the hours or portions thereof necessary to locate, gather, summarize, compile, tailor, review, redact, segregate, certify or attend the inspection of the public records requested.  

Thank you for contacting us with your request.   

Sincerely,  

Lisa
Lisa Thornton
Office of Public Records
6207 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-6207
541-346-6823
pubrec@uoregon.edu 

From: Diane Dietz [mailto:diane.dietz@registerguard.comSent: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 10:06 AM
To: Lisa Thornton
Subject: Re: Public Records Request 2013-PRR-036

Lisa,
We are going to ask for a waiver for the balance of the fee based on the public interest in the information. We are a newspaper that service the public. We have ample ability to disseminate the information. The public has a high level of interest in the functioning of the university.  

From the Attorney General’s manual:
The custodian of any public record may furnish copies
without charge or at a substantially reduced fee if the custodian
determines that the waiver or reduction of fees is in the public
interest because making the record available primarily benefits the
general public.  …
ORS 192.440(5) does not require a public body to grant a fee waiver or
reduction, even if the public interest test is met.73 Instead, the decision to
waive or reduce fees is discretionary with the public body, although it mustact reasonably.74 The Oregon Court of Appeals has said that reasonableness
is “an objective standard,” which requires examination of “the totality of the
circumstances presented.”75 Requests for a fee waiver or reduction must be
evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

We believe that the university does not act reasonably when it denies all — or almost all — public interest fee waiver requests.  

Please reconsider our waiver request and conduct the information to us as soon as practicable. 

Thank you,
Diane Dietz
Reporter
The Register-Guard
541-338-2376 

—– Original Message —–
From: “Office of Public Records” <pubrec@uoregon.edu>
To: “diane dietz” <diane.dietz@registerguard.com>Sent: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 4:15:03 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: RE: Public Records Request 2013-PRR-036
Dear Ms. Dietz-

In recognition of the role that the media plays in representing the public interest, the office has already applied a 20% fee reduction to your request.

In order to consider granting either a further fee reduction or complete fee waiver I must ask you to further detail how receiving this information primarily benefits the public.  It is not enough for the public to be ‘interested’ in a topic, instead the information must primarily benefit the general public.  The Attorney General’s 2011 Public Records and Meetings Manual states  “a matter or action ‘primarily benefits the public’*** when its most important or significant utility or advantages accrues to the public… ‘when the furnishing of the record has utility – indeed its greatest utility – to the community or society as a whole’” (pg 18).  The reasoning that “the public has a high level of interest in the functioning of the university” is not sufficient to pass the public interest test.

Please do not hesitate to contact the office if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Lisa

Lisa Thornton
Office of Public Records
6207 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-6207
(541)346-6823
pubrec@uoregon.edu

From: Diane Dietz [mailto:diane.dietz@registerguard.com]
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 11:49 AM
To: Office of Public Records
Subject: Re: Public Records Request 2013-PRR-036

Hi Lisa,
Her is why receiving the requested information would benefit the public:
A free press that serves as a watchdog of government agencies has long been acknowledged in our country to deeply benefit the public. Law and custom recognized that for the watchdog role to function, the press must have access to governmental records — thus we have the Federal Freedom of Information Act and the Oregon Public Records law. In this specific instance, I expect the records to provide a foundation for a news story that will describe to the university community and to the public at large how decisions were made regarding a public building on a public campus. The story will help the public make decisions with regard to its government. Is there any greater public interest in a Democracy? 

If this is not sufficient, please let me know what you would consider sufficient.
Thanks,
Diane

From: “Office of Public Records” <pubrec@uoregon.edu>

To: “Diane Dietz” <diane.dietz@registerguard.com>Cc: “David Hubin” <hubin@uoregon.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 3:47:09 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: RE: Public Records Request 2013-PRR-036
9/26/2012

Dear Ms. Dietz-

Thank you for further detailing the basis for your fee waiver.  Each fee waiver petition is considered separately and further details for justification are helpful.  The office has determined that a fee waiver, or further fee reduction, is not warranted in this instance. Therefore, the office will not waive any fees beyond the 20% discount previously applied to your request.

To determine whether or not the request merited a fee waiver or reduction, the office conducted a three part public interest test.

First, the office considered the character of the public interest in the particular disclosure.  The office acknowledges that information regarding how the University makes decisions regarding a public building, on a public campus, can primarily benefit the public at large. However, in this instance, the benefit to the public in knowing how these decisions are made is not sufficient to justify directing University funds away from its primary mission of education.

Secondly, the office considered the extent to which the fee impeded the public interest.  The Register Guard is a large publication, and the office found it unlikely that the additional fee of $172.21 would unduly burden the organization.

Thirdly, the office considered the extent to which a waiver would burden the public body.  In this instance, the documents require review by the Office of the General Counsel.  Asking General Counsel to dedicate their limited resources to this request, without compensation, places an undue burden on their office.

Upon receipt of a check, made payable to the University of Oregon, in the amount of $172.21, 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 the office with your request.

Sincerely,

Lisa

Lisa Thornton
Public Records Officer
University of Oregon
Office of the President
6207 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-6207
(541)346-6823
pubrec@uoregon.edu

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.

Public not allowed at public records officer interviews

9/10/2012: That’s the decision by Dave Hubin, who’s running the search for a replacement for Randy Gelller’s hire, Liz Denecke. But you are allowed to read their resumes on Gottfredson’s website, here.

9/13/2012 Update: I went to the interview for the first candidate, Lisa Thornton. She has been the Interim PR Officer since October. I was surprised to learn that under her the office has *never* granted a public interest fee-waiver, though she said they have granted some reductions. In general I think the office has been well run under her, particularly before the Berdahl/Hubin rescission of the Lariviere reforms. There are problems to be sure, but certainly a huge improvement from Denecke. At times she has been helpful as interim PRO, at times not. As an example of helpful I’d cite her response to my request last winter for Provost Bean’s sabbatical contract, during the debates over whether Bean or Berdahl would become interim President. She provided the requested documents and more within hours and at no charge, and they were influential in the Senate Executive Committee’s decision to support Berdahl over Bean. As an example of not helpful, I’d cite her response to my request for documents on OH air quality, explained at http://uomatters.com/2012/08/oregon-hall-air-not-any-more.html The documents on the Robin Holmes / EMU scandal came primarily from angry students, not from the PRO office, which still has not responded to this 8/23 response from an RG journalist: http://publicrecords.uoregon.edu/content/emu

The fee waiver question that came up at the end of Lisa’s interview was very troubling. Journalists know that these fees are a common strategy for delaying the release of information and keeping it out of the news cycle. Given how obvious this is, I think it’s in UO’s best interest to save it for emergencies. It was disappointing to learn that under Lisa the office has never granted a public interest waiver. 

There were two other candidates. Jennifer Davis from DEQ was the most impressive overall. Working part time she has handled almost as many PR requests as the UO office handles with two full time workers, and she has done it without the expensive specialized software that Liz Denecke bought, to no apparent effect. She came across as very professional and straightforward.

Interestingly, at UC – Irvine, public records are under the Provost’s office. That was Mike Gottfredson, now UO President. At UC-I he had a simple fee policy: they do not charge fees unless you want dead tree copies, or  maybe, if computer programming is needed to get the data:

What does it cost to make a request?

  • We typically provide requested documents in electronic form and there is no charge for this.  If, on the other hand, you are requesting a photocopy of records, you may be charged 10 cents per page for the duplication of documents (California Government Code, Section 6253(b)).  In the event that data must be queried, you may be charged with the associated programming and production costs (California Government Code, Section 6253.9(b)).

    Requesters will be notified of any associated costs prior to the release of documents.

UO is way behind the curve on this. Fees for simple things like contracts can easily approach $100 and takes weeks to get, particularly if Randy Geller is involved. Here’s our Public Records Office’s policy:

Fees 

The Office of Public Records charges for the actual cost of making available public records. Fees are based on the amount of staff time involved (calculated based on hourly rate of pay and benefits), a per-page fee for photocopies, and any mailing or delivery charges.  Staff time includes locating,gathering, reviewingsummarizingcompiling, copying, monitoring (if a request is made to inspect records on-site), tailoring and redacting the public records. 

Fee Reductions or WaiversPublic Interest: The Office of Public Records may reduce or waive fees when fulfilling public records requests that benefit the interests of the community or society as a whole (ORS 195.440(5)). If you would like to apply for a fee waiver, please provide a statement that conveys how your request meets this requirement and thus justifies redirecting the public’s resources away from the University’s primary mission of education to absorb some or all of the cost of your request. 

Exceptions: Publirecord requestmadfocommercial purposes arineligiblfor feereductions owaivers.Simple Requests: The Office of Public Records may waive the fee for fulfilling non-commercial, simple requests that clearly require less than one hour of university staff time. Because even straightforward requests incur administrative and institutional costs, typically no more than twfee waivers for such requests will be granted to any individual requestor within a calendar month.

9/12/2012 updates coming later today.

Hubin and Gottfredson remove Geller blockage

from UO’s public records system. Emphasis in the original:

Dear Bill, 

President Gottfredson received your inquiry, included below, and has asked me to respond on his behalf. As a result of further discussion, we will be modifying our fee practices so that simple, straightforward requests that take less than one hour to fulfill, including those that involve the Office of General Counsel, will receive a fee waiver. 

Our Public Records Administrator, Lisa Thornton, will be contacting General Counsel, and you will receive as soon as practical the contracts for BSK with no fee assessed.   

I am asking Lisa Thornton to remove the last sentence from our fee statement on the Public Records website: 

ExceptionsNo fees will be waived for any request that involves legal review or computer programming. 

Best Regards,
Dave
David R. Hubin, Ph.D.Senior Assistant to the President

So, some movement on public records and transparency. I’m no law professor, but I think part of the big push to move this little revision through the JH bowels is that Oregon’s public records law does not allow agencies to flat out refuse to waive fees.

This is not the first time our General Counsel’s office has been confused about how to obey that law. There’s a little more history here, or follow the “Public Records” or “Randy Geller” tabs below. 8/22/2012.

UO to post all faculty sabbatical proposals online?

8/7/2012: That’s the latest rumor from Dave Hubin. Apparently the proposal comes from Bob Berdahl, with support from unnamed other Johnson Hall dwellers. My guess is this is a reaction to my posting of the letters describing Interim Provost Jim Bean’s Berdahlesque sabbatical online last December, during the fight over whether Pernsteiner would appoint him as interim President. Perhaps related to Berdahl’s attack on the credibility of my research claim that other unnamed faculty are attacking the credibility of my research. That’ll teach the faculty what happens when they meddle in the affairs of administrators.

FWIW you can get a list of my publications and citations here, and some pretty random student comments at ratemyprofessor.com. (The official UO course evaluations are now behind a firewall, anyone know why?) Anyone can do the same searches for any UO professor. But good luck trying to get any sort of information on our UO senior administrators, without using the public records law. They don’t even post their c.v.’s. Randy Geller wouldn’t give his up until I petitioned the Attorney General.

Public records officer search

is now underway. Job ad here. Randy Geller, Bob Berdahl, and Dave Hubin did not even notify the UO Senate Transparency Committee. This position was created by Richard Lariviere 2 years ago, with direct reporting to the president, to avoid the conflict of interest inherent in having the General Counsel’s office in charge of public records. Dave Hubin was put in charge after the first PR Officer went wacky, and the STC insisted that someone in JH take responsibility. As Lariviere said after the GC’s office had screwed up the Bellotti requests, had to pay out $2.3 million, and got slammed by the DOJ review:

“This institution did not follow acceptable business practices in the past. That will not be repeated by my administration.”

It’s now being repeated. In creating the office back in 2010, Lariviere said:

Lariviere has said he wants the UO to take timely action on public records requests, and provide media and others with all information that the university can appropriately and legally release. In announcing creation of the Office of Public Relations, he instructed staff in all departments to respond as quickly as practical to all inquiries from the new office.

But Bob Berdahl backtracked on that promise this spring, rescinding Lariviere’s efforts. 7/26/2012.

Update 7/27/2012:

The search committee includes:

  • Dave Hubin, Chair          Senior Assistant to the President, Office of the President  
  • Julie Brown                      Senior Director, Communications 
  • Kim Sheehan                    Professor, Journalism and Communication 
  • Doug Park                         Associate General Counsel, General Counsel

Doug Park is an interesting choice – he was in charge of public records requests for the GC’s office when that office failed to respond to repeated requests from the Register Guard, over a period of months, for a copy of Mike Bellotti’s contract. An expensive mistake by some lights, but by others it makes him perfect for helping UO find a PRO who will help the GC’s office restrict access to public records.