Update: EMU referendum meeting today

Update: There was a kickoff meeting today on the EMU renovation referendum vote. It seems the efforts to influence the outcome are still chugging along. An anonymous source asked that I post this:

1)  The attendees, most of them from ASUO exec staff, made it clear that they should present information in a neutral way in order to avoid getting in trouble. However, amongst each other they were very clear that they all supported the renovation. So the theme of the meeting was “we all support the renovation, but this campaign has to appear neutral in order for the referendum to actually pass” not “let’s just inform the student body, regardless of the outcome.” 

2) They’re planning to offer prizes to whichever greek house has the highest voter turn-out. This is for overall turnout, not for yes votes, but I still think it’s completely wrong that they would offer prizes exclusively to their preferred demographic. Imagine Romney exclusively paying wealthy Caucasians to vote, but then claiming it was okay because he couldn’t control which way they voted.

11/7/2012: Nick Ekblad has the scoop in the Commentator:

 A supposedly “informative kickoff meeting” for the EMU referendum vote will be taking place TOMORROW (WEDNESDAY), November 7th at 3pm in the Mills International Center. Learn more about the renovation and how you can get involved. The ASUO Executive’s plan for the following week of voting will be addressed, as well as how students will be educated and informed. Students can’t have a voice if students don’t attend!

Meanwhile the details of how exactly UO and G. Gordon Libby Robin Holmes came to hire the RBI election consultants are still hidden. There are a lot of public records requests in for documents. My guess is that John Ehrlichman Dave Hubin and the public records office use the usual fees and redactions methods to stall on releasing them until after the students vote to tax themselves to fund the renovation.

UO happily spent $17,000 in student money trying to manipulate this election, but Hubin wouldn’t give the Register Guard a $172.21 fee waiver for the documents explaining it. Wouldn’t want any informed voting, would we. 11/7/2012.

EMU renovation and student politics

Dash Paulson has a good piece in the ODE about how Robin Holmes let the EMU renovation turn into a fiasco. Short version: ASUO president Ben Eckstein insisted on substantial student input on the committee. Robin Holmes didn’t let that happen, and the students voted against the plan and fees, twice. Then *someone* came up with the bright idea of hiring the RBI campaign consultants to persuade the students to vote for it. (The story incorrectly calls RBI a  public relations firm, but from their website, the contract, and the work product it’s clear their job was to manipulate the student vote.)

So who’s idea was it to hire RBI? Robin Holmes? The students? Lariviere? Berdahl? It’s still not clear – the ODE needs to start requesting the public records on this. 10/8/2012.

Holmes, Moffitt take the EMU lead, students want transparency

That’s the word from Dashiell Paulson in the ODE:

University spokesperson Joe Mosley said that Moffit, who is also the University CFO, convened the committee and she and Holmes have “taken the lead” in discussing the progress of the group and discussing possible options for an EMU expansion with Gottfredson.

I’m surprised that Robin Holmes still has a job at UO. She just spent $17,000 in public funds to try and manipulate the outcome of a vote that was key to a $90 million state bond sale. She was only stopped because of some curious students and reporters and this blog. She wanted to spend $55,000.

President Gottfredson just let Lisa Thornton and Dave Hubin stall the release of public records on this. To now let Holmes “take the lead” with the EMU project is pretty troubling, even if Moffitt is there to supervise.

A bunch of UO students have just written President Gottfredson on this:

Dear President Gottfredson, 

As you know, students across the University and citizens across the state of Oregon were very concerned by the Division of Student Affairs’ handling of the proposed EMU renovation and specifically their decision to contract with a political consulting firm to interfere in a student election. 

I am deeply disturbed by the withholding of informative records about this project from Diane Dietz, of the Register-Guard, and, more importantly, from the community at large. I urge you to instruct Vice President Robin Holmes and the Office of Public Records to release these records immediately at no cost. 

Students cannot trust our institution unless our institution first trusts us with the information that we need to make informed decisions about the future of our institution. Please change the course that the Division of Student Affairs has mapped out by adopting transparency as a top priority.

Here’s hoping Mr. Paulson has some of the investigate instincts of his namesake, and that the ODE starts making some public records requests to find out what’s really going on. 

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

Student EMU Task Force takes responsibility for RBI

Op-Ed in the RG from UO Student VP Nick McCain, on behalf of the EMU Task Force, 8/26/2012:

As a task force we identified the main reasons why the last referenda failed and decided to take it upon ourselves to learn how we could effectively communicate the importance of the renovation to our peers. In an attempt to further educate our peers, increase voter turnout, and combat voter apathy, we decided to explore innovative and creative marketing strategies.

No apologies here. He’s defending the report from RBI and the task force’s use of student money on it and the methods it proposes. Bold move. (Or I suppose you could read it as refusing to address the RBI issues. Not so bold.)



UO students slam EMU manipulation

From an RG Op-ed, by UO students Kevin Sullivan and Elise Downing, 8/25/2012:

… Unfortunately, the student affairs administrators at the UO, who are trying to increase the prestige of the university by renovating the EMU, are shooting themselves in the foot by showcasing an affinity for corruption and lack of ethics that have made waves throughout the state.

Robin Holmes still has a job, which suggests that she was following someone’s orders when she hired the RBI elections firm to manipulate the EMU election, and not going off on her own. I wonder how specific any such orders were, and who they might have came from. For most of the time involved she reported to Lorraine Davis. Holmes sits on UO’s “Executive Leadership Team”, and her ultimate boss was interim President Bob Berdahl. Last spring Berdahl rejected a request by the UO Senate and ASUO presidents to allow them to attend ELT meetings.

emugate

8/23/2012: Ian Campbell of the ODE gets a few quotes from students. The EW posts a shout out. Word from the Fishbowl is that students are planning a series of investigations, complaints and so on. Meanwhile the RG is still digging into the scandal, you know there’s more coming.

Why not get ahead of the curve by having Robin Holmes issue a genuine apology to the students, followed by Jim Bean promising that the money will be repaid by sending Holmes off on one of those unpaid furloughs that he loves to have other people take:

EMU elections firm drops Holmes, or vice versa?

8/21/2012: Word from the historic EMU FishBowl is that RBI Strategies no longer thinks it’s in their best interests to be associated with UO and the efforts of our VP for Student Affairs to use student money to manipulate students into voting for higher student fees. More when Randy Geller gets around to filling this public records request. Meanwhile, Betsy Hammond has more in the Oregonian:

University of Oregon leaders admit they made a tactical error when they hired a top political firm that advised them to use hard-sell techniques and $30,000 in free T-shirts and other items to persuade students to raise their own fees to upgrade the student union.

UO Vice President Robin Holmes said Monday evening that the university has ended its contract with the firm and won’t follow through with any part of the full-bore effort to control student messaging, criticize opponents and hand out swag in advance of an October student vote.

Diane Dietz reports in the RG:

Holmes could not be reached for comment.

Yes, “mistakes were made,” as they say, but Robin Holmes is not taking the fall. Ian Campbell had this quote from her in the ODE, blaming it on students and staff:

“The EMU Renovation Task Force Team asked the EMU staff if there was any possibility for there to be some help as they looked at the ways to put out the educational messages and the facts about the project and the best way to address that. The EMU staff contracted with a marketing team, …”

That said, I expect she’ll soon issue a statement saying something like:

“While the details of this regrettable campaign were arranged by others, I must accept responsibility for failing to supervise these students and employees adequately.” 

“Of course I mean responsibility in the abstract sense. I’m not going to actually pay the RBI bill out of my raise, or suffer any other consequences from these mistakes. You are.”

The contract is here. Interestingly the signatures for legal review aren’t on this version, or they were redacted by General Counsel Randy Geller’s office, or it was never reviewed. Take your pick:

VPSA Holmes to repay $25,000 RBI contract out of her latest raise

Just kidding – we all know UO’s top administrators never face the consequences of their decisions – that’s for us little people. The student union is stuck with the bill, and the students who supported this for genuine reasons now look like dupes or worse. But FWIW her $40,000 raise from Bob Berdahl in May puts her at $233,000 plus an apparently UO paid family trip to the Rose Bowl – not that I’m jealous. Scott Carlson of the Chronicle of Higher Education has more on the EMU debacle here. Excerpt:

Robin Holmes, vice president for student affairs at the University of Oregon, has led the renovation project. Her office released a statement Friday night, following the meeting.
“We have heard the concerns that the manner of contracting with the communications services firm was a misstep and we agree,” the statement said. ”The UO will not implement all of the recommendations made by the communications firm.” 

Ms. Holmes did not respond to requests for an interview.

So now RBI strategies is a “communications services firm”. And Orwell was a “noted children’s author”. BTW the comments on Bojack are pretty good:

“Now I’m not going to stand here and tell you we didn’t take a few liberties with our academic budgets. We did.”

VP Holmes hires election consultant for EMU expansion

Full version of the RBI Strategies EMU campaign plan is here.

Update: Why was the RBI contract for $25,000? Because Oregon administrative rules require public notice for contracts of $25,000.01 or more. Sneaky.

Update: Diane Dietz has the story in the RG. AP version here. VP Holmes spent $25,000 of student union money for the consultants report below, and was apparently planning on blowing another $30,000 on swag and propaganda. Ian Campbell in the ODE has this quote:

“The EMU Renovation Task Force Team asked the EMU staff if there was any possibility for there to be some help as they looked at the ways to put out the educational messages and the facts about the project and the best way to address that. The EMU staff contracted with a marketing team, they did not use student fees for this fee, they used auxiliary funds out of the reserve account that they had. We are currently taking a look at that contract and are potentially rethinking if we will be using that service or not at this time,” Holmes said.

“Potentially rethinking”? “Educational messages”? “Not an effort to fool students”? Bullshit. Come on ODE – just email pubrec@uoregon.edu and make a public records request for the BANNER records, contracts, invoices, and emails between RBI and EMU task force members and UO employees. If you don’t make it clear that you will verify what administrators say when you interview them, they will keep lying to you.

Update: The EMU board – which presumably approved this use of funds – is supposed to have 3 faculty members, appointed by the UO president. The current board is listed here. 2 of the 3 “faculty” members are actually administrators – one for DPS, one for the Recreation Center.

Word in the comments is that OUS today passed the request for bonds, conditional on a positive election outcome, and that student union money was indeed used to pay the consultant and to hire at least ASUO student senator to work on the campaign.

8/17/2012: This is for $90 million in funding to renovate and expand the EMU student union building. The OUS finance subcommittee votes on the approval for bonds Friday 8/17, docket here. They are doing this in the summer to minimize student input – it almost worked, see below.

The UO students have voted against this several times, a fact which is conveniently not mentioned in the proposal to OUS. Costs have increased from $300 per student per year to $351 (note: part of this is for the associated rec center expansion, see the docket for details). Payment starts 2 years before construction finishes. Final OUS approval will be conditional on a positive vote from the students this fall, which new ASUO Pres Laura Hinman believes she can deliver. To put this in perspective, these fees will be about 4x what the students currently pay in subsidies for the athlete only Jock Box tutoring.

Now it turns out that VP for Student Affairs Robin Holmes (Update: and/or the EMU directors) are using $30K in student money to convince the students to vote to tax themselves for this project. I don’t see any other explanation for the documents below – unless the UO Foundation is footing the bill. Full report from the RBI election consulting firm is here, their estimated cost spreadsheet is here.

This is amazingly manipulative – and is it really legal to make people pay the costs of a campaign to convince them to vote yes on a bond initiative? My understanding is that a school board, for example, would be in serious trouble for something like this. Unfortunately UO general counsel Randy Geller’s new legal policy prevents student government from obtaining competent independent legal advice – they have to rely on UO’s general counsel Randy Geller.

The politically active and engaged Lamar Wise and other ASUO Senators are going to bring their objections to the project – and more importantly I think their evidence of manipulation – to the OUS meeting on 8/17/2012. Their full testimony is here. Excerpt:

OUS board meets to approve Student Union expansion

Page and pages of docket info here for a telephonic meeting on Friday. The UO students have voted against this several times, a fact which is conveniently not mentioned in the proposal. Costs have increased from $300 per student per year to $351 – payment starts before construction finishes – and approval will be conditional on a positive vote from the students this fall, which new ASUO Pres Laura Hinman believes she can deliver. To put this in perspective, these fees will be about 4x what the students currently pay in subsidies for the athlete only Jock Box tutoring.

One tidbit from the financial projections: OUS has no idea that our enrollment is supposed to hit 25,200 this fall – they think it’s going to level out at 24,000 next year. How much are we paying Dr. Pernsteiner? When did Matt Donegan say he was going to hold a board meeting at UO? 8/15/2012.

Eckstein aces game theory, Holmes flunks.

12/7/2011: VP for students Robin Holmes gave the UO students an ultimatum: Vote for the administration’s version of your new student union, or you will get nothing:

Holmes also said the administration will respect the student vote. If the referendum is rejected, the projects will not be built and the facilities will remain as they are.

I’m no economist, but this is bullshit. Draw the game tree, do the backwards induction and find the unique pure strategy sub-game perfect Nash equilibrium. If the students vote against the administration’s plan, will it then really be in VP Holmes’ best interests to stop the EMU renovation? Of course not – that’s not going to get her a job as president somewhere. And ASUO President Ben Eckstein called her bluff. On Friday the students voted against her plan. Today VP Holmes folded and, via Greg Bolt in the RG, she told the students she would negotiate:

In voting that wrapped up Friday, 57 percent of students casting ballots disapproved of the EMU project and 52 percent rejected the recreation center. More than 4,600 students voted.
Holmes said everything will be on the table in talks with students, including scaling back the project to reduce the fee to pay for it.

UO students are getting a good education. Our administrators need a few more classes. Explain. 20 points possible.