Admin Transparency Group 12/18/12 live-blog

Short version:

This “administrative advisory group” will not even make a written report to Gottfredson. Wouldn’t want to leave a paper trail on their transparency recommendations!

Meanwhile JH is spending tens of thousands of tuition dollars on “Around the O” PR spin, while nickeling and dimeing journalists and bloggers trying to get real information through the public records law. The SD Tribune has a good story on this trend:

There used to be one government PR specialist for every four reporters in America; now the relationship is almost 1-to-1.

But see below – UO’s Journalism Dean Tim Gleason (for a few more months) isn’t worried about the many hundreds of thousands UO spends on PR flacks – he’s worried about how to stop reporters from getting a few $1000 worth of UO public records without fees and delays.

On Roster: (italics if present)

Barbara Altmann, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Dietrich Belitz, Professor, Physics
John Bonine, Professor, Law
Julie Brown, Senior Director of Communications
Stuart Chin, Professor, Law School Dean designee
Tim Gleason, Journalism Dean
Laura Hinman, ASUO President
Dave Hubin, Chair and Convenor
Renee Irvin, Associate Dean for Finance, AAA; Associate Professor, PPPM
Orca Merwin, Contracts Specialist, Sponsored Projects Services
Jennifer O’Neal, University Historian and Archivist, UO Libraries
Allie O’Connor, Contracts Manager, Purchasing and Contracting Services
Craig Pintens, Sr. Assoc. A.D. for Marketing & PR, Athletics
Kim Sheehan, Professor, Journalism & Communication
Greg Stripp, Associate VP for Administration, Finance and Administration
Lisa Thornton, Public Records Officer, Office of Public Records
Jaime Tryon, Transfer Articulation Specialist, Registrar’s Office

Guests: Your blogger and an Anon reporter type, who must have found out about the meeting from this blog, because Hubin sure didn’t tell anyone.

Agenda:
They didn’t send it to me, sorry. Printed copy includes “best practices” stuff, something Kim Sheehan on “public interest”.

Live Notes: Usual disclaimer: My opinions of what people meant, not a quote unless in ” “.
Dave Hubin: Usual pleasantries. 1.5 years working on public records. Charge of this group: This is an AAG, not a committee because we want to cut the faculty and the STC out of things and that requires an end run around Kyr and the Senate.

Dave’s history: PRO formed 2 years ago by Lariviere because Melinda Grier fucked up. Turnaround time is now ~7 days. (Not true for the ones Geller steps on – i.e. everything of interest – those typically take ~30. DOJ says 10 is typically reasonable). Lariviere proposed fee waiver (not true: Senate had asked for this a year prior). Lariviere asked for log of requests and follow-through. (Not true. STC fought for this too.) Hubin says $ limit caused problems, still needed to convert time estimates to $. (How hard is that – it’s multiplication.)

Hubin then switched to one hour. He casts this as efficiency – in practice it lead to a large and noticeable decrease in responsiveness. Additionally, the interim PRO, Lisa Thorton, with Hubin’s blessing, stopped approving any fee waiver requests, a policy which continues to this day unless the requester is able to figure out how to embarrass the administration into it, as UO Matters did with the Oregon Hall air quality docs.

Hubin will not even share the opinion from Randy Geller which purports to justify PR Officer Thornton’s refusal to even explain her fee waiver denials. 

Kim Sheehan: Does the money go back to departments? (Not until UO Matters discovered it wasn’t, now it does.)

Lisa Thornton, PRO: Reviews PRO website, here. Sheehan: No anonymous requests? True – all names except students. Hubin: Good Q for group. We could. Hubin: We would allow this for whistleblowers. (Not true, I’ve tried it).

Dietrich Belitz: Who determines what gets posted automatically? Thornton: It’s only athletics contracts. These and other docs are hidden from Google, by our special $25,000 software, but if I have them and someone somehow finds that out, I send them out.

Hubin: This group could recommend posting more stuff – e.g. contracts over $100K. (Oregon law requires UO to do this annually, but Geller hides a lot anyway.)

Thornton: Comparison of that other AAU’s do. Claims one hour wavier is working – for whom? Still working on the definition of the public interest. Health (aftermath of Oregon Hall air quality fiasco and UO Matters pushing it). Wrongdoing – we waive fees if we think there’s evidence of wrongdoing. Sure you do. 20% discount for “traditional media”.

Rennee Irvin: Union? Not using PR

Tim Gleason: Back to his claim that law allows them to charge fees even when the public is interested. Wow does he have a problem with giving away documents to the public. He’s all about the “burden on the providing organization”. This guy is Dean of Journalism? Not for long it seems.

Hubin: It’s complicated. I’ve got handouts. Including one from John Bonine – I’ll add later.

Belitz: Why not put everything that’s clearly a public record up on the web – e.g. as Portland does with property records. (Many municipalities do this with many things). Hubin: We could do this, do we want to? Q for this group.

Jennifer O’Neal (UO archivist): Retention: State mandates retention schedule for UO docs. As of 3-4 years ago we ran out of space, now take in only after about 15 years. Have a grant to make them available to researchers. These now are getting utilized. We help PRO or work directly with requestors.

Hubin: How good a job are we doing with retention? 

O’Neal: Some dept’s are good, many don’t think about it, have staff. (And some are simply hiding things.)

Hubin: Thanks, that’s it. We’ll use doodle to find a time that we can hide from the public again.

O’Neal: Is this group going to come up with anything tangible, or just meet? (Let me guess – she’s new here.)

Hubin: I might take some of what you say to Gottfredson, I might not. It’s all advisory. Not even a written report!!!

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.

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.

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.