Oregon loses to Tennessee on transparency

Both came from public records requests for invoices from the same firm, for their work on NCAA infractions:

UO’s redactions
UT’s redactions

Randy Geller has gotten much cockier lately, for Sharon Rudnick’s invoices he redacts everything
Richard Lariviere made a point of saying that the General Counsel’s office was out of control, firing Melinda Grier, and setting up an independent Public Records Office. But then Geller outsmarted Lariviere and hired Melinda Grier’s old friend Liz Denecke to run the office. Disastrous hire. After pressure from the Senate Transparency Committee Lariviere eventually put Dave Hubin in charge, and after more pressure – including a letter from Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia – he moved Denecke on to something less, uh, visible. 
But after Berdahl took over, Hubin started letting Geller walk all over him. And Gottfredson hasn’t done anything to fix UO’s public records problems – not yet anyway. At UC-Irvine public records requests went through Gottfredson’s office. Their policies are here and are a huge step up from Geller and Hubin. Example?

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.

More as this develops, starting with the meeting of Hubin’s administrator group, tomorrow at 9AM. 12/17/12.

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.

No Comment

11/8/2011:

Dear Research Community:

I am happy to announce that after a long search we have been successful in appointing a Sponsored Projects Contract Officer for the Office of Research Services and Administration (ORSA). Ms. Liz Denecke, who most recently served as the UO Public Records Officer, joined ORSA in late October to work in the pre-award group. For a number of years, Liz provided legal assistance to the UO and other OUS institutions as a staff attorney in the Education Section at the Oregon Department of Justice. In addition, she provided legal services to both public and private colleges and universities as Counsel to Miller Nash LLP.

Liz and Contract Specialist Orca Merwin combined make up the ORSA contracts team  who will process hundreds of awards and subawards received by UO researchers every year. Their goal is to further refine the cycle time for contract negotiation and execution and to work with their ORSA and unit colleagues on streamlining work-flow processes. Please join me in welcoming Liz to the ORSA team.

Best Regards,

Moira [Kiltie].

Liz Denecke steps down from UO public records job

10/21/2011: It’s slightly more than a year since she was appointed as UO’s first Public Records Officer by President Lariviere, in what was billed as an effort to improve trust and transparency between the UO administration and the UO community and public after the Bellotti/Grier debacle. From the ODE article:

“She was the unanimous choice of the selection committee, considering her experience and her knowledge of Oregon law,” Lariviere said. …

A regional search for the permanent director of the public records office began in mid-June, chaired by University Archivist Heather Briston and assisted by Assistant General Council Doug Park and Senior Director of Communications Phil Weiler, as well as the School of Journalism and Communication’s dean, Tim Gleason.

But things did not go well. Not well at all. Very badly. So badly that President Lariviere got a letter *from* the editor of the Oregonian about her performance.

The search for a replacement will begin soon. Step one to getting it right this time will be keeping UO General Counsel Randy Geller, whom Denecke listed as a reference on her resume, and Associate GC Doug Park, who had ignored the Belotti contract requests from the RG, both out of the hiring process.

why the press won’t trust Lariviere’s "new partnership" plan

2/18/2011: Because he hired Liz Denecke as his Public Records Officer and Melinda Grier’s assistant Randy Geller as his General Counsel.

From George Schroeder in the RG on UO’s latest efforts to hide records on a (minor) athletic scandal:

Here’s your long-awaited update on the investigation into Oregon’s men’s basketball program: The NCAA is (redacted) in the (redacted), and it’s (redacted), and we should expect (redacted). No, sorry, that’s not quite right. The word should be “rejected.” Your right to know, that is.

Redactions would be a huge improvement over the university’s response to an open-records request made by The Register-Guard last September, when the newspaper broke the story of alleged NCAA rules violations revolving around former center Michael Dunigan. … 

“One thing I have noticed,” (Former U.S. Sen. James L.) Buckley said during a telephone interview Thursday (on the FERPA law UO used to hide these records), “is a pattern where the universities and colleges have used it as an excuse for not giving out any information they didn’t want to give.” …

Last spring, stung by criticism of the university’s mishandling of public records requests for Mike Bellotti’s contract (which we now know didn’t actually exist, at least on paper), President Richard Lariviere promised a new approach.

“We are going to change a lot of the university’s practices,” Lariviere said then. “At this point I can’t tell you exactly what the response will be to any individual request, but I can tell you we will be as responsive, open and transparent as we possibly can be.”

The UO subsequently created an office of public records, and hired an attorney to run it. Another school official said the move “emphasizes an institutional commitment to openness.

It all sounded good. But apparently, someone didn’t get the memo. We could file an open-records request to locate it — but don’t hold your breath.

UO – the academic side of UO, not the jock department – paid the Attorney General $8,514 to write this denial of the Register Guard’s request. We filed a public records request on Wednesday for documents explaining how Liz Denecke’s office has been advising administrators about public records requests – particularly emails. More on this later.

Liz Denecke on public records reform: Paid to act dumb.

1/28/2011: Regarding Kroger’s new laws. From Stefan Verbano in the ODE:

“I am not going to argue against it (because) I don’t disagree with the intent of making government more open.”

Nice that our Public Records Officer is willing to go on record as not disagreeing with the theory behind her job.

But if you have ever tried making a public record request to her, you’ll know this is bullshit. In practice, her job is delaying and denying – just like Melinda Grier before her. She spends $300,000 a year doing this as obstinately and slowly as possible. Lariviere pays her to act dumb. Go ahead – ask for a record and see. Here’s how.

Denecke is currently trying to stall RG requests for records on the NCAA investigation of the Ducks. (Hi Liz – I got that info from the DOJ – not from your emails.) This will cost UO another $5,000 or so. Out of the general fund, not athletics, of course.

Failure to Communicate

12/10/2010: The Connecting Eugene group recently made this appeal to the Senate Transparency Committee regarding UO’s delay responding to public records requests about the Trammmel Crow / ORI / Riverfront Research contracts, and UO’s refusal to grant a public interest fee waiver for the documents.

Yesterday the committee met to address this complaint. UO’s Public Records Officer Liz Denecke took the strange position that the Connecting Eugene people had forced her to charge them $202.34 and then stonewall for 3 weeks before she could provide them with the public contracts. As far as she’s concerned it was all *their* fault. She is quoted by Stefan Verbano in the ODE:

“This (conversation) should not even be necessary if you would have communicated with me earlier,” Denecke told Cziko. “You have to tell me what it is you’ve gotten, and what it is you are seeking … (it’s) a fundamental problem of you needing to tell me.

Wait – I’ve heard that logic before, from someone:

She is the Public Records Officer. Those troublemakers trying to get public records are the fundamental problem. What will it take to communicate with them? The lash? The box? 50 eggs?

Not enough, apparently. Connecting Eugene stuck to their arguments. Ms Denecke folded and agreed to refund the $202.34 that she had charged them for public records. I am pretty sure this is the first time that has ever happened in the history of Oregon’s public records law.

Meanwhile the City of Eugene had provided the documents requested from them in 2 days, with no fee.

I hope this resolution is a positive step forward for Transparency at UO, and that next time Ms Denecke will think long and hard – and explain her thinking in writing to the public – before using fees to delay and discourage people from exercising their rights to get public information on matters of public importance. But, realistically, I expect it will be a long fight.

public records office stalls

11/2/2010 update: Two weeks and counting after we requested them, new UO Public Records Officer Liz Denecke still will not provide a copy of her resume, Randy Geller’s resume, or the same documents for the other finalists in the searches. Her office’s budget is $240,000. She’s got a full time assistant. She can’t find her own resume?

10/30/2010: A helpful reader sends what is believed to be a photo of UO’s new General Counsel, Randy Geller. UO will not provide a photo to reporters, or even allow Mr. Geller to be interviewed. More amazingly, nearly 2 weeks since we made the request, UO’s new Public Records Officer Liz Denecke still will not produce a copy of Geller’s resume. Or of her own for that matter. Huh?

The Oregon AG’s 2010 Public Records Manual says: “The public is entitled to inspect non-exempt records as promptly as a public body reasonably can make them available.” The 2008 version of this manual had a great quote on the cover, from Madison:

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

We just want to see the resumes of the people who applied to be our university’s chief lawyer, and of the attorney ostensibly hired to improve public records access at UO. President Lariviere and his staff seem to have gone into some weird place over this simple request. It’s just bizarre. Farce or Tragedy.

Ironically, the Madison quote is from an 1822 letter addressing President Lariviere’s favorite issue: public funding of higher education – in this case for the new state of Kentucky. The full first paragraph?

The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded. A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

Geller and Denecke resumes

10/30/2010: A helpful reader sends what is believed to be a photo of UO’s new General Counsel, Randy Geller. UO will not provide a photo to reporters, or even allow Mr. Geller to be interviewed. More amazingly, nearly 2 weeks since we made the request, UO’s new Public Records Officer Liz Denecke still will not produce a copy of Geller’s resume. Or of her own for that matter. Huh?

The Oregon AG’s 2010 Public Records Manual says: “The public is entitled to inspect non-exempt records as promptly as a public body reasonably can make them available.” The 2008 version of this manual had a great quote on the cover, from Madison:

“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

We just want to see the resumes of the people who applied to be our university’s chief lawyer, and of the attorney ostensibly hired to improve public records access at UO. President Lariviere and his staff seem to have gone into some weird place over this simple request. It’s just bizarre. Farce or Tragedy.

Ironically, the Madison quote is from an 1822 letter addressing President Lariviere’s favorite issue: public funding of higher education – in this case for the new state of Kentucky. The full first paragraph?

The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded. A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.