Open Records2

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Fw: official correspondence regarding open records request violation on the part of the City of Mt. Juliet.


Tue, Sep 16, 2008 at 5:26 PM

To: Publius Publicola <p.v.publicola@gmail.com>

—– Original Message —–

Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 6:05 PM
Subject: official correspondence regarding open records request violation on the part of the City of Mt. Juliet.

Dear Mayor, Vice Mayor, and Commissioners;

Regardless of what you think of me on a personal basis, and regardless of what you think of me on a public basis, there can be no excuse for failing to abide by the law. A citizen does not forfeit any rights to free speech or access to public documents just because you find them annoying, or don’t like what they have to say.

Public access to public records is a foundational pillar and fundamental tenet of a free society. Without public access to public records a unit of government could quite literally conduct business in practically any manner it desires, legal or not, without risk of exposure. City Employees, who are fearful of losing their jobs, are not likely to take risks to inform the public over small violations of the law by public officials. And, as I believe we have seen in the past, there are those in government who have shown that they will retaliate against employees who make public statements. The only way the public becomes aware of the goings on of this government is through citizen activists.

I, for better or worse, am a citizen activist. I chose not to run for the office of Mayor, in spite of a number of appeals for me to do so, because I believe that this government, this community, really needs to understand that the government works for the people…just as it says in Article 1, Section 1 of the Tennessee State Constitution. Just as the owner of a corporation has a right to inspect the company books, we the people have a right to inspect the books of the government. This fundamental right is one of the things that sets this nation apart from most of the rest of the world, and it is also this fundamental right that helps to keep government and government officials humble. Public access to public documents reminds government officials who they ultimately work for. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that we are to “bind down their mischief”. He was speaking of the people keeping public officials at bay. How can a society protect itself from the malfeasance of one or more public officials unless they have unfettered access to public documents?

Each of you took an Oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, the laws of the state of Tennessee, and the ordinances of this city. That Oath does no recognize personal preferences, or likes and dislikes. That oath does not exclude one law or ordinance because you don’t like or agree with that law.

Mr. Robertson has been willfully denying my right to access to public records on the basis that I owe a bill for a previous records request. Let me be clear: I do not owe a bill to the city, and Mr. Robertson has no legal ground whatever in preventing me access to view public records.

I have included below the new public records act to make it easier for you to inspect the law regarding this matter.

Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 1

PUBLIC CHAPTER NO. 1179

SENATE BILL NO. 3280

By McNally, Haynes, Burchett, Tracy, Williams, Watson

Substituted for: House Bill No. 3637

By McDaniel, Eldridge, DuBois

AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 8, Chapter 4; Title 8, Chapter 44

and Title 10, Chapter 7, relative to open government.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 10-7-503, is amended by

deleting subsection (a) in its entirety and substituting instead the following:

(a)(1) As used in this part and Title 8, Chapter 4, Part 6, “public record or

records” or “state record or records” means all documents, papers,

letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing

files and output, films, sound recordings, or other material, regardless of

physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or

ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any

governmental agency.

(2)(A) All state, county and municipal records shall at all times,

during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during

the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for

personal inspection by any citizen of Tennessee, and those in

charge of such records shall not refuse such right of inspection to

any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.

(My Commentary: Even though it may be inconvenient, and even though Mr. Robertson may have a problem with citizen who wants to inspect the public records, I believe there is no way that you can read section (2) (A) above and not get the impression that the state legislature feels differently. It says that ALL state, county, and municipal records shall at all times, during business hours, . . . be open for personal inspection by any citizen of Tennessee, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law. IMPORTANT NOTE: Mr. Robertson is trying to assert that because I asked for “all” public records in one of my requests, that he was correct in providing me with “all” public records, regardless of the fact that the sentence he is reading when he says “all” has a qualifier contained within it. Using Mr. Robertson’s same logic and applying it to section (2) (A), I can then ignore the qualifier “unless otherwise provided by state law” and therefore his is required to provide me with access to “all” public records without any limitation whatsoever. We all know that such a position would be absurd, just as Mr. Robertson’s position is absurd.

(B) The custodian of a public record or the custodian’s

designee shall promptly make available for inspection any public

record not specifically exempt from disclosure. In the event it is

not practicable for the record to be promptly available for

inspection, the custodian shall within seven (7) business days:

(i) Make such information available to the

requestor;

(ii) Deny the request in writing or by completing a

records request response form developed by the office of

open records counsel. The response shall include the

basis for the denial; or

(iii) Furnish the requestor a completed records

request response form developed by the office of open

[Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 2]

records counsel stating the time reasonably necessary to

produce such record or information.

(My Commentary: Notice how in the above there are only three possible ways to deal with a public records request and still be in compliance with the law. One is to make the records available within 7 business days, the second is to formally deny the request in writing or by completing a “records request response form” developed by the office of open records counsel, including the basis for the denial, or three, furnish the requestor a completed records request response form developed by the office of open records counsel stating the time reasonably necessary to produce such record or information. I submit to you that the city failed on all three counts. It did not provide the information within the 7 business days, it did not deny my request stating the reason for denial, and it did not furnish me a completed records request response form developed by the open records counsel stating the time reasonably necessary to produce such record or information.

(C)(i) Until the office of open records counsel develops a

schedule of reasonable charges in accordance with § 8-4-

604(a), a records custodian may require a requestor to pay

the custodian’s actual costs incurred in producing the

requested material; provided that no charge shall accrue

for the first five (5) hours incurred by the records custodian

in producing the requested material. Such actual costs

shall include but not be limited to:

(a) The making of extracts, copies,

photographs or photostats; and

(b) The hourly wage of employee(s)

reasonably necessary to produce the requested

information.

(MY COMMENTARY: notice above in the area highlighted in green where it says that no charge shall accrue for the first five (five) hours incurred by the records custodian in producing the requested material? Notice where it goes on to say: “Such actual costs shall include but not be limited to: The making of extracts, copies, photographs or photostats; and (b) the hourly wage of employee(s) reasonably necessary to produce the requested information.

I will break that down for you. This means that time spent making copies is included in the five hours that the city is not allowed to charge me for information that I am seeking. Clearly you have included labor in the fees the city is charging to make copies because that is the only way that you even come close to 25 cents per copy. I believe the city is in violation of the law when it includes labor costs in the 25 cents per copy.)

(ii) When such schedule of reasonable charges is

developed, the provisions of subsection (a)(7)(C)(1) shall

become effective.

(iii) Following the development of the schedule of

reasonable charges by the office of open records counsel,

the office of open records counsel shall notify the

Tennessee Code Commission and when the code

commission receives such notice this subdivision (C) shall

no longer apply and the language in this subdivision (C)

shall be repealed and deleted by the code commission as

volumes are replaced or supplements are published.

(3) Failure to respond to the request as described in subdivision

(a)(2) shall constitute a denial and the person making the request shall

have the right to bring an action as provided in § 10-7-505.

(My commentary: Notice in section 3 where it says : Failure to respond to the request as described in subsection (a) (2) shall constitute a denial and the person making the request shall have the right to bring action as provided in § 10-7-505? Since the city failed to respond as described in section (a) (2), the city by default denied my public records request. I know that this is a technicality, but isn’t that the game Mr. Robertson is playing here? Since he denied my request by default, technically there is no way that he could legally charge me for the request. Even if we included subsequent e-mails back and forth between the city attorney and I, the human resources director and I, and of course, Mr. Robertson and I, the request is legally denied because Mr. Robertson didn’t follow proper procedure. One could argue that on the basis of those e-mails the request is still active, even if the request were still alive, you really run into difficulties later on as you will see as you read on.)

(4) This section shall not be construed as requiring a

governmental entity or public official to sort through files to compile

information; however a person requesting such information shall be

allowed to inspect the non-exempt records.

(5) This section shall not be construed as requiring a

governmental entity or public official to create a record that does not exist;

however the redaction of confidential information from a public record or

electronic database shall not constitute a new record.

(my commentary: under state law, any citizen is entitled to go to city hall and ask to view any public record they choose, and regardless of the size of the request, they have a right to see it and the City cannot charge them for the time it takes to redact it.)

(6) A governmental entity is prohibited from avoiding its disclosure

obligations by contractually delegating its responsibility to a private entity.

(7)(A) A records custodian may not require a written request or

assess a charge to view a public record unless otherwise required

[Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 3]

by law. However, a records custodian may require a request for

copies of public records to be in writing or that such request be

made on a form developed by the office of open records counsel.

Such custodian may also require any citizen making a request to

view a public record or to make a copy of a public record to

present a photo identification, if the person possesses a photo

identification, issued by a governmental entity, which includes the

person’s address. If a person does not possess a photo

identification, the records custodian may require other forms of

identification acceptable to the records custodian.

(B) Any request for inspection or copying of a public record

shall be sufficiently detailed to enable the records custodian to

identify the specific records to be located or copied.

(My commentary: I was very, very specific in my request and still Mr. Robertson insisted on developing a file which contained information I did not ask for and that I specifically excluded!)

(C)(1) A records custodian may require a requestor to pay

the custodian’s reasonable costs incurred in producing the

requested material and to assess such reasonable costs in

the manner established by the office of open records

counsel pursuant to § 8-4-604.

(2) The records custodian shall provide a requestor

an estimate of such reasonable costs to provide copies of

the requested material.

(I requested an estimate before they proceeded with my request. On top of the fact that they denied my request by default, they never provided me with a proper estimate of charges, but rather they eventually noted some of the charges in a couple e-mails in passing and without completeness. Further, they had proceeded before they provided me any information regarding cost.)

SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 10-7-505(b), is amended by

adding the language “or circuit court” immediately after the language “chancery court” in

the first sentence.

SECTION 3. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 10-7-505(b), is further

amended by adding the language “or circuit court” after the language “chancery court”

every time it appears in the second sentence.

SECTION 4. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 10-7-505(g), is amended by

adding the following language at the end of the subsection:

In determining whether the action was willful the court may consider any

guidance provided to the records custodian by the office of open records counsel

as created in Title 8, Chapter 4.

(My Commentary: I believe that you will find that the open records office has now given Mr. Robertson counsel through Mr. Holleman regarding the law. Mr. Robertson and Mr. Holleman have also attended an open records meeting. He is clearly violating my rights and his efforts are now “willful”. Any further denial of my rights to view and/or receive public records is a willful violation.)

SECTION 5. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 8, Chapter 44, Part 1, is

amended by adding the following as a new section thereto:

§ 8-44-109.

(a) The municipal technical advisory service (MTAS) for municipalities

and the county technical assistance service (CTAS) for counties, in order to

provide guidance and direction, shall develop a program for educating their

respective public officials about the open meetings laws codified in this chapter,

and how to remain in compliance with such laws.

[Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 4]

(b) The Tennessee School Board Association shall develop a program for

educating elected school board members about the open meetings laws and how

to remain in compliance with such laws.

(c) The utility management review board shall develop a program for

board members of water, wastewater and gas authorities created by private act

or under the general law and of utility districts in order to educate such board

members about the open meetings laws and how to remain in compliance with

such laws.

(d) The state emergency communications board created by § 7-86-302

shall develop a program for educating emergency communications district board

members about the open meetings laws and how to remain in compliance with

such laws.

(e) The office of open records counsel established in Title 8, Chapter 4,

shall establish educational programs and materials regarding open meetings

laws in Tennessee, to be made available to the public and to public officials.

SECTION 6. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 8, Chapter 4, is amended by

adding the following sections as a new part thereto:

8-4-601.

(a) There is created the office of open records counsel to answer

questions and provide information to public officials and the public regarding

public records. The role of such office shall also include collecting data on open

meetings law inquiries and problems and providing educational outreach on the

open records laws codified in Title 10, Chapter 7, and the open meetings laws

codified in Title 8, Chapter 44.

(b) The office of open records counsel shall answer questions and issue

informal advisory opinions as expeditiously as possible to any person including

local government officials, members of the public and the media. State officials

shall continue to consult with the office of the attorney general and reporter for

such opinions. Any opinion issued by the office of open records counsel shall by

posted on the office’s Web site.

(c) The office of open records counsel is hereby authorized to informally

mediate and assist with the resolution of issues concerning the open records

laws codified in Title 10, Chapter 7.

8-4-602.

(a) There is created an advisory committee on open government to

provide guidance and advice for the office of open records counsel.

(b)(1) The advisory committee shall consist of ten (10) members to be

appointed for a term of four (4) years; provided that the four (4) members

listed in subdivisions (b)(1)(A)-(E) shall be appointed for an initial term of

four (4) years and the four (4) members listed in subdivisions (b)(1)(F)-(J)

[Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 5]

shall be appointed for an initial term of two (2) years. The advisory

committee shall be made up of one (1) member from each of the following

groups who will be appointed by the comptroller from a list of three (3)

nominees submitted from each group:

(A) One (1) member from the Tennessee Coalition for

Open Government;

(B) One (1) member from the Tennessee Press

Association;

(C) One (1) member from the Tennessee Municipal

League;

(D) One (1) member from either the Tennessee County

Services Association or the County Officials Association of

Tennessee;

(E) One (1) member from the Tennessee School Boards

Association;

(F) One (1) member from Common Cause;

(G) One (1) member from the League of Women Voters;

(H) One (1) member from public hospitals submitted by the

Tennessee Hospital Association;

(I) One (1) member from the Tennessee Association of

Broadcasters; and

(J) One (1) member representing the Tennessee board of

regents or the University of Tennessee.

(2) The advisory committee shall also consist of the chairs of the

House and Senate State and Local Government Committees and the

attorney general or the attorney general’s designee.

(c) The non-legislative members shall not receive compensation for

serving on the committee but shall be reimbursed for attendance at meetings in

accordance with the comprehensive travel regulations promulgated by the

Commissioner of Finance and Administration and approved by the attorney

general.

8-4-603.

(a) The advisory committee, with the guidance and assistance of the

office of open records counsel, may review and provide written comments on any

proposed legislation regarding the open meetings laws codified in Title 8,

Chapter 44, and the open records laws codified in Title 10, Chapter 7.

[Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 6]

(b) The office of open records counsel and the advisory committee shall

provide a report to the general assembly and to the governor by March 1 of each

year.

8-4-604.

(a) The office of open records counsel shall establish:

(1) A schedule of reasonable charges which a records custodian

may use as a guideline to charge a citizen requesting copies of public

records pursuant to Title 10, Chapter 7, Part 5. In establishing such a

schedule, the office of open records counsel shall consider:

(A) Such factors as the size, by population, of the county or

municipality; the complexity of the request; the number of man

hours involved in retrieving the documents, redacting confidential

information from the documents, and any other costs involved in

preparing the documents for duplication; the costs of duplication;

the costs of mailing such documents if the requestor is not

returning to retrieve the requested documents; and any other

costs which the office of open records counsel deems appropriate

to include in such charge; and

(B) The principles presented by the study committee

created by Chapter 887 of the Public Acts of 2006:

(i) The state policies and guidelines shall reflect the

policy that providing information to the public is an

essential function of a representative government and an

integral part of the routine duties and responsibilities of

public officers and employees;

(My commentary: Seems to me that the legislature was interested in making sure that all Tennessee Governments understood that “Providing information to the public is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties and responsibilities of public officers and employees. An “essential function”, an “integral part of routine duties and responsibilities!”

(ii) That excessive fees and other rules shall not be

used to hinder access to non-exempt, public information;

(My Commentary: It is obvious that Mr. Robertson attempted to charge me excessive fees and that he arbitrarily made up his own rule to bar me from access to public records.)

(iii) That, in accordance with § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A),

no charge shall be assessed to view a public record unless

otherwise required by law;

(My commentary; The only basis that Mr. Robertson could possibly have used to restrict my access to public records viewing would have been the fact that he believed that I owed a bill for my previous request and that on that basis the city was not allowed or required to extend to me the courtesy of further increasing my obligation financially, however, as you read section (iii) above you will discover that viewing my public records request incurs no further charges and therefore his argument is rendered absurd. At the moment that he advised, and then threatened me, that I would not be provided any further access to public records on the basis that I still owe a bill he was in violation of the law.)

(iv) That the requestor be given the option of

receiving information in any format in which it is maintained

by the agency, including electronic format consistent with

Title 10, Chapter 7, Part 1; and

(Regardless of whether or not this section has been codified or agreed upon, it is clear that the legislature was interested in making sure that we the people have a right to receive information in the format that it is maintained by the city. As you will discover, a large portion, if not all, of the information that Mr. Robertson compiled in response to my request is in the form of an e-mail, and that is how I wanted to receive this information. I believe you will develop the same perception that I have developed if you read this letter with an open mind, and that perception is that Mr. Robertson was determined to develop excessive fees for my receipt of this information, and only when he realized that he was in violation of the law and that this thing could come back on him did he do an about face.)

(v) That when large-volume requests are involved,

information shall be provided in the most efficient and cost effective

manner, including but not limited to permitting the

requestor to provide copying equipment or an electronic

scanner.

(My Commentary: Isn’t it clear that the legislature desires that the government bend over backward to ensure that public records are freely accessible and that they be provided to the public in the least costly manner practicable? At one point in this process I offered up the possibility that I simply go to city hall to observe the information that I requested. I think it is going to become clear to you that I went way out of my way to prevent the city from developing an excessive bill in regard to my request and that it was in fact an affirmative action on the part of Mr. Robertson that caused a bill of any amount whatsoever.)

From the open records office website:

With regard to whether or not government entities have the ability to charge citizens for “retrieving, supervising access and inspection” of public records, the answer appears to be “no.” While there has not been a Tennessee Attorney General Opinion (hereinafter “Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen.”) issued that specifically addresses assessing citizens costs for “retrieving, supervising access and inspection,” of public records, Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 80-455 (September 19, 1980), sets out that the custodian of records may only charge a reasonable approximation of the actual cost of copying a public record. Additionally, in addressing the reasonableness of fees charges for public records, Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 01-021 (February 8, 2001), states, “a local government may generally not charge more that its actual cost to copy public records.” The opinion also indicates that charging for researching, locating or retrieving public records is not proper “per se.”

(MY COMMENTARY: The city is charging, and has been charging, 25 cents per copy for all public records requests that are printed to paper. You are all aware of how much money I have spent on public records request by now. What you may not realize is that the city is in violation of the law, and is over charging, for the cost of printing such material. Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 01-021 says that charging for researching, locating or retrieving public records is not proper “per se”. I don’t believe you will be able to justify the fee you charge for public records, now, or in the past, so I would suggest that you take appropriate remedial action to bring your fees in line with your “actual costs”. Your fees could easily be considered “arbitrary and unreasonable”.

[Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 7]

The schedule established pursuant to this subsection(a) shall be revised

at least annually.

(2) A separate policy related to reasonable charges which a

records custodian may charge for frequent and multiple requests for

public records.

(3) A safe harbor policy for a records custodian who adheres to

such policies and guidelines established by the office of open records

counsel.

(b) The office of open records counsel shall make such policies and

guidelines available on the Internet.

(c) Such policies and guidelines shall not be deemed to be rules under

the provisions of Title 4, Chapter 5.

SECTION 7. This act shall take effect July 1, 2008, the public welfare requiring it.

PASSED: May 20, 2008

APPROVED this 19th day of June 2008

________________________________________________

I am writing to you to provide you with the evidence that Mr. Robertson has failed to comply with state law. He has attempted to improperly charge excessive and unjustified fees for a public records request. You should also note that Mr. Robertson is also denying me the right to view public records and to receive public record information on the basis that I will not pay his erroneous, if not fraudulent, bill.

Please understand that this matter has crossed over from Mr. Robertson merely mishandling a public records request or tripping over the new public records act, his actions, in my opinion have now mounted to official oppression (TCA 39-16-403 (a) A public servant acting under color of office or employment commits an offense who: (1) intentionally subjects another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, stop, frisk, halt, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful: or, (2) Intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power or immunity, when the public servant knows the conduct is unlawful).

There was an illegal denial of access to public records regarding the letter of intent to the YMCA. I believe it is clear that Mr. Robertson well knew that I vehemently oppose the measure to provide free use of land or assistance to the YMCA on the basis that the city is improperly and/or immorally using tax payer’s money to provide a gain to the YMCA. I believe that Mr. Robertson submitted his letter of intent to the commission just prior to the commission meeting when we first heard about it so that I could not coherently opine on the letter prior to it being voted on. I requested a copy of the letter with plenty of time for him to provide it to me before the next commission meeting, however, he neglected to provide the letter to me and he neglected to inform me that he had no intent to provide that letter to me. I believe that there is substantial evidence to conclude that Mr. Robertson was in fact making an attempt to restrict my access to this information until as late in the day as possible on the Monday you were to vote on it in order to prevent me from being able to publicize the letter so that citizen could view it and take appropriate action on it before you voted.

Following is a copy of my original request for public records:

Official Request

I hereby request copies of all quotes for employee and dependent health insurance received by the City of Mt. Juliet from any insurance agency or agent during the 2nd quarter of 2008 (from April 1 to June 30)

Further, I would also like to receive copies of all correspondence and emails sent or received by the City Manager, the City Recorder, the City Finance Director, and the City Human Resources Director which concerns the City’s employee and dependent health insurance from or to any insurance agency, broker or agent during the 2nd quarter of 2008(from April 1 to June 30).

I would prefer to receive scanned copies of any written correspondence & quotes and electronic copies of emails all sent to me by e-mail at (my email)

Please provide me with an estimate of any charges associated with preparing these records before proceeding. Please e-mail such estimate to me at (my email)

I am going to copy my request here so that I can dissect it for you so there is no mistake of what I asked for:

Official Request

I hereby request copies of all quotes for employee and dependent health insurance received by the City of Mt. Juliet from any insurance agency or agent during the 2nd quarter of 2008 (from April 1 to June 30)

Further, I would also like to received copies of all correspondence and emails sent or received by the City Manager, the City Recorder, the City Finance Director, and the City Human Resources Director which concerns the City’s employee and dependent health insurance from or to any insurance agency, broker or agent during the 2nd quarter of 2008(from April 1 to June 30).

Please refer to the first two paragraphs and you tell me, did I ask for “all” meaning every piece of information “ever” received or sent to or from the city to any insurance agency, broker or agent (as Mr. Robertson suggests) or did I ask for information that was “received” or “Sent” between April 1 and June 30 of this year? I think the answer is quite obvious. MY request was limited by the following language: “…during the 2nd quarter of 2008(from April 1 to June 30).

I would prefer to receive scanned copies of any written correspondence & quotes and electronic copies of emails all sent to me by e-mail at (my email)

Did I ask for paper copies? No. I asked for scanned copies and e-mails. Why would I ask for scanned copies and e-mails? To avoid having to pay the city’s unreasonable fee to copy this information to paper. It appeared to me, and to others, that the new law required them to provide me with information in the format the city maintained the file, however, it appears that this is only the “will” of the legislature and has not been codified in the law as of yet. I guess the spirit of the law in this case does not apply. However, as you will learn later on in this letter, it would have been of no additional difficulty for Mr. Robertson to avoid trying to run up a massive bill for me simply by selecting the pdf. function on the copier rather than copying this information to paper.

Please provide me with an estimate of any charges associated with preparing these records before proceeding. Please e-mail such estimate to me at (my email)

Did I ask for an estimate before they proceeded or after? I asked for an estimate “before” they proceeded. Did they do that? No! I think you will discover that, what they are passing off as an estimate isn’t a “proper” estimate, and that what they did provide was late.

I submitted my request on July 3rd of this year. As of the 11th of July I had still not heard anything from the city manager regarding my request for public records. I will remind you, or inform you in case you were not aware, that when I was requesting information from the city manager during the budget debacle and trying to deal with that issue I ended up filing an official misconduct complaint against Mr. Robertson. He eventually called me and conceded that I was right about the budget issues and that he had instructed Ms. Vollett to call me, which she failed to do, and that he had thought she had taken care of the issue to my satisfaction. Considering that Mr. Robertson conceded that I was right, and that the mistakes in the budget were the result of the work of his staff and not the fault of a previous administration as Mr. Robertson was asserting in the commission meetings, I pulled my official complaint. I am telling you this because the city only has 7 working days to fulfill my request or properly notify me on the proscribed form or in the proscribed manner that my request is denied or that it will be delayed and the reason for the delay. Rather than allow Mr. Robertson to exceed the seven-business-day limitation, I sent the following e-mail. I am trying to obtain the truth without having to fight for it, however, Mr. Robertson obviously has a different plan.

On July 11th I sent the following e-mail message to Randy Robertson.

Mr. Robertson,

I am still waiting on word regarding my records requests.  I haven’t heard a thing, and although you do have until next Tuesday to either provide the information that I am looking for or an explanation as to why you won’t produce it, I felt it would be prudent for me to inquire.  Given that you had directed city staff to contact me before, and given that they failed to do so, which created a lot of problems, I thought that I should let you know that I have not heard a thing from the city regarding my requests, and time is running out.  I expect to have word at least by Tuesday.  However, it is a sad reflection on you and your staff that you can’t produce this information any sooner than this.

Harold C. Huber

On July 11th I received this reply from the city manager:

Mr. Huber

I am out of town

Pls speak w mr holleman.

Thanks

On July 11th I also received this reply from the city Attorney:

Butch,

Your request related to the budget spreadsheets will be produced in a timely manner.  I will be reviewing the issue of whether, under the Tennessee Open Records Act, you are entitled to review the documents that you have requested related to the City’s insurance quotes.

Jason

Please note the public act above and observe that Mr. Holleman’s e-mail to me does not constitute a proper response to me. In other words, he was in error to respond to me in this manner. Remember, he only had three option on how to handle my request, and his response here does not satisfy the law. Further, “timely manner” is not a reasonable estimation as to when I will receive this information. iii) Furnish the requestor a completed records

request response form developed by the office of open

Public Chapter No. 1179 PUBLIC ACTS, 2008 2

records counsel stating the time reasonably necessary to

produce such record or information.

Notice in iii where it says “time reasonably necessary to produce such record or information? Obviously, “timely manner” is not consistent with what was written in the law.

Then, on the 16th of July I received the following E-mail from the City Attorney:

Butch,

Tenn. Code Ann. § 12-3-1011(f) provides that “[c]ompetitive sealed proposals shall be opened in a manner that avoids disclosure of contents to competing proposers during the negotiation. The proposals shall be open for public inspection after the intent to award the contract to a particular proposer is announced.”  Based upon this statute, we will be happy to provide you with copies of the quotes for the City’s insurance coverage after the contract is awarded.

Jason D. Holleman, Esq.

City Attorney

City of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee

(615)754-2552

2425 North Mt. Juliet Road

P.O. Box 256

Mt. Juliet, Tennessee 37121

Again, I refer you to the act above. My request had already been denied at this point because Mr. Holleman had not responded to me in the manner proscribed by the new act. However, even if we grant him that one mistake, even this response is not in keeping with the new law because it does not state a reasonable time and it doesn’t address the non-exempt e-mails and correspondence, and therefore, my request is still denied! Keep in mind that I gave specific timeframes for which I was interested in receiving information and the city had an obligation to respond according to law to my actual request and not what they “perceived” that I was requesting.”

I responded to Jason Holleman on July 16th:

Jason,

Do you have an ETA for such “award of the contract”?

Butch

Mr. Holleman failed to respond to my last e-mail so I sent the following e-mail on July 17th:

Jason,

1) Please confirm that the city has currently NOT awarded a contract or announced “an intent to award a contract” for employee health insurance to continue coverage past the expiration date of the previous contract with United Healthcare, which ended on June 30, 2008.

2) Please provide me with the date on which the “competitive sealed bids” will be opened and the date on which “an intent to award a contract” is expected to be announced.

3) My public records request was for all of the quotes, AND IN ADDITION to the quotes, all of the correspondence (including email correspondence) between the city, and any health insurance company, agency, or agent in the period from April 1st through June 30th. I will, most likely submit an additional request for any correspondence which has been sent or received after June 30th. It will be more efficient, if copies are set aside now, as they are received.

4) I requested all of the correspondence, including email correspondence, not just quotes.  You are authorized by law to redact out any information for which I am not authorized to view, and I certainly don’t wish to receive any information I am not authorized by law to have, until it is authorized, then I do want it.  However, unless you are officially telling me that the only correspondence the city has between “any” health insurance company, agency, or agent from the period from April 1st through June 30th are competitive sealed bids, I believe that you have to turn over at least some of what I have asked for now. When the rest of the information becomes public record you must provide that as well.  Please provide me with any and all of the information I have requested, as per my request, minus the restricted information, immediately.  The city has now exceeded the 7 day deadline established in the new law regarding the provision of public records upon citizen request.

The city’s reluctance to turn over information that I clearly have a right to have and/or the city’s reluctance to turn it over in a timely fashion is beginning to look exceedingly suspicious to me and to many others who are observing what is going on.  The whole issue with the budget would have been a simple matter if they would have taken me seriously and looked at what I was saying.  Turned out I was right and they were wrong.  Now that I had to dig in so much I have found some other things that have gotten my attention.  Now, I can’t seem to get information regarding the city’s health insurance.  Here is a question…”why, if the city hasn’t awarded a contract, have the employees insurance rates gone up”?  What happened to cause them an increase in their insurance rates?  If the city hasn’t awarded a contract, or given anyone an intent to award a contract, how did the city manager project an 18+% increase in insurance costs for the city?  Why is the insurance going up 18% for the city and the employees still having to come out of pocket to pay part of the insurance costs all of a sudden?  What happened?  If the employees have to pay for an 18% increase out of pocket, and the city has to pay an increase of 18%, it would mean a 36% increase in insurance rates?  I would like to know what happened to increase the rates so much in one year.  That appears to be about 3 times any previous rate increase!  Obviously, something drastic has happened here.  Now, having submitted my request in writing, I can’t seem to get any of the information I am requesting?  Rather than give me what the I am authorized to have, the city provides me with “nothing”?  This kind of behavior makes me dig in more and more.  It is really beginning to look to me like someone is hiding something they desperately don’t want anyone to know about.

Butch Huber

I never got a response from Mr. Holleman regarding this last e-mail I sent to him. Please refer to paragraph 3 above. Notice how I reiterate to Mr. Holleman that I only want the information received or sent between April 1 and June 30th? Please observe paragraph 4 above. I am specifically asking that the city not delay in the provision of any information that could be delivered to me immediately. I believe that you will find that as of the 15th or 16th of July the City had technically denied my request by default. What that means to you is that, because they failed to follow the law, my request was in a state of having been denied and that as of that time I am authorized to seek relief in Chancery or civil court. I believe you will find that the new law requires that the city manager either provide me with the information requested or correspond with me on the proper forms and or in the proper format. I further believe that you will find that Mr. Robertson has failed to do as the new law requires.

I never got a response from Mr. Holleman regarding the issues I raised in my last e-mail. He simply ignored me. Mr. Holleman failed to respond to my last e-mail and Mr. Robertson failed to have staff provide me with the information requested. They didn’t have the right to alter my request. They had to provide the information as requested. They had a right to redact information that the law allows them to redact and then they had to provide me with all unrestricted information asked for in my request. Instead, they made the decision to wait until all information was received and a contract was awarded. This delay could have, and may have, robbed me of an opportunity to help this city save valuable tax dollars. In addition, you should question why Mr. Holleman elected to discontinue communicating with me when I started to hit on the possibility that there may have been some impropriety in the way that health insurance was handled.

I received the following E-mail from Jill Johnson on the 29th of July:

Mr. Huber – I was notified that you were requesting the insurance bids for 08-09.  We just signed our contract with our new carrier as late yesterday today.  I have copies of the bid proposals from the self funded carriers, and can get copies of the fully insured carriers also, as all bids were run through our new consultant/firm, under the recommendation of our insurance committee.  If you will let me know if this is what you are looking for, I would appreciate it.

Respectfully,

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson

Human Resources Director

City of Mt. Juliet

jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org

“In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned                                  is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.” – Henry Miller

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE This message originates from the offices of the City of Mt. Juliet. This e-mail message and all attachments are privileged and confidential. If you are not the intended recipient, you should immediately stop reading this message and delete it from your system. Any unauthorized reading, distribution, copying, or other use of this message or its attachments is strictly prohibited. This message may not be copied or distributed without this disclaimer. Although this email and any attachments are believed to be free of any virus or other defect that might affect any computer system into which it is received and opened, it is the responsibility of the recipient to ensure that it is virus free .If you received this message in error, please notify us immediately at jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org. Thank you.

Please note that by this time my request had long been denied by default because the city failed to properly handle my request.

I replied to Jill on July 29th:

Hey Jill,

My request is for more than just bids, my request is for all correspondence associated with health insurance from the beginning of April, through the end of June, However, now that we are this late in July, I would appreciate it if you would include any and all correspondence, including e-mails, up to today’s date.

Mr. Robertson should have my request if you need to know exactly what I have asked for.

Thanks, Jill.

Butch Huber

Now, a person could erroneously take the position that this e-mail gave Mr. Robertson permission to provide me with “all” correspondence without limitation, however that would be a mistake. You have to use the English language when interpreting a request made in English. What I am saying is that you have to keep things in context. My limiter on the front end is April 1st of this year. So, at most, they should have limited their compilation to April 1st to July 29th, the date of this e-mail. However, you will see in a later e-mail that I reverted back to the April 1 through June 30 timeframe when it became clear to me that they were trying to run up a substantial bill for me. Mr. Robertson included information dating back to at least December of last year if I am not mistaken. That means that time was spent searching for information that I clearly have not asked for. Mr. Robertson cannot quantify how much time was spent delving through files for which I have not asked for, so he cannot justify the bill he as submitted to me. However, even if you were to somehow take the position that this e-mail opens up the request to include “all” correspondence without limitation, Mr. Robertson has failed in that respect as well because he didn’t include all correspondence from the beginning of the city. He cannot have it both ways. I think any reasonable person would conclude that Mr. Robertson is trying, in a very immature and unprofessional manner, to justify his actions without any basis for his argument.

Jill responded the same day with the following e-mail:

Butch  – I will obtain the information from our consultant on the bids, along with the bid packet that was put forth to the market.  Along with that you have requested email correspondence.  As I am sure you already are aware, I will have to review my email for HIPPA compliance due to the privacy of the employees.  There could be quite of bit of paperwork involved and I wanted to inquire if you want  me to contact you prior to any copies being made to let you know the estimated cost of those, so you can let me know exactly what you’ll need.  If you have questions regarding the insurance, etc., please let me know.

Thanks,

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson

jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a

single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. Winston Churchill

Please observe Ms. Johnson’s last e-mail. Notice where it says that she will have to review “her” e-mail? Now go back and look at my actual request. Notice where it says that I want all correspondence and emails sent or received by the City Manager, the City Recorder, the City Finance Director, and the City Human Resources Director which concerns the City’s employee and dependent health insurance from or to any insurance agency, broker or agent during the 2nd quarter of 2008(from April 1 to June 30). Did Jill inspect the e-mail of City Manager Randy Robertson to determine if there was any correspondence that would fall under this request? How about the city recorder or the finance directors, did she look in their e-mails as well? The reason I ask is because it doesn’t appear as though she did based on this last e-mail. If she did not include those e-mails I may not be able to discover the true cause of this increase in insurance premiums.

Please observe the last e-mail from Jill Johnson. Notice where it says that she wanted to know if I want her to contact me “BEFORE” any copies are made? I followed this e-mail up with the next e-mail sent on July 29th as well:

Jill,

I suggest you read the request for information that I filed, it spells things out very clearly.  Yes, I do want all correspondence, including e-mails.  The new law provides 5 hours worth of work for this request at no cost to me, including the cost for making copies.  The city may be able to charge the actual cost of the copies, which is 1 cent per copy if I am not mistaken, but it cannot charge me for the time spent making the copies unless the total time spent on the request exceeds five hours.  In reality, the city can no longer charge 10 for a cd either, since the cost of a cd is more like 25 cents.  I have indicated on my request how I want the city to proceed regarding costs.

If the time of my request is going to exceed five hours, please let me know and I will break the request down into smaller tasks and submit several requests, which will reduce the amount of time per request. That way, I can get this information without having to spend a bunch of money to obtain it.  If necessary, I can get several people to submit requests for specific information, as they would all have five hours before they could be charged.

As far as the HIPPA Compliance, I am aware that there will be some information that you simply cannot supply to me, however such information must be properly redacted so as to provide me with the maximum amount of information requested that is possible while still remaining compliant.

Thank you,

Butch

In the last e-mail I was letting Ms. Johnson know that I did not desire to spend my own money to receive this information. I advised her that if it was going to exceed the time proscribed by law to be provided to me free of charge I would split up my request or others could exercise their right to ask for public records. This might seem a little, or a lot, shady to you, but in consideration that my suspicions were that they city was attempting to develop a massive bill for me, and considering that I had just spent 40 to 50 dollars trying to straighten out Mr. Robertson’s budget blunder, and considering the substantial increase in cost the city is now going to have to pay for health insurance, I was not in the mood to have people playing games in order to charge me money. Especially considering that the city attorney neglected to update me as per my last e-mail to him.

Jill responded on the 31st of July with the following e-mail:

Mr. Huber – I tried to contact you via phone on Wednesday afternoon & also this evening, Thursday, July 31st @ 7:15, but I was unable to leave a message.  I wanted to contact you to let you know that I am working on your request for insurance records.  This is a very extensive  request,  that will include a great deal of review to redact HIPPA regulated information, so therefore it will take some time as I am the only staff within this department.  I will be working on this request in addition to my normal scope of duties.  Along with that I’ve had to request additional documentation from our consultant/broker regarding the bids.    There was also a letter mailed to you regarding this issue.  I will update you as soon as I have the request completed.

Respectfully,

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson

Human Resources Director

City of Mt. Juliet

jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org

“In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned                                  is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.” – Henry Miller

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE This message originates from the offices of the City of Mt. Juliet. This e-mail message and all attachments are privileged and confidential. If you are not the intended recipient, you should immediately stop reading this message and delete it from your system. Any unauthorized reading, distribution, copying, or other use of this message or its attachments is strictly prohibited. This message may not be copied or distributed without this disclaimer. Although this email and any attachments are believed to be free of any virus or other defect that might affect any computer system into which it is received and opened, it is the responsibility of the recipient to ensure that it is virus free .If you received this message in error, please notify us immediately at jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org. Thank you.

Please note Ms. Johnson’s last e-mail. Notice where it says “I am working on your request”? I believe that you will find that Ms. Johnson began work on my request “Before” I was given even a poor attempt at an estimate. This is not in keeping with my request and is not in keeping with the law.

I felt like Jill was upset that she had to complete these tasks, so I sent her the following e-mail.

I responded on August 1st with the following e-mail:

Jill,

I am sorry to put extra load on you, but I do feel it is important for the public to be able to determine exactly why the insurance rates have gone up so drastically this year.  The entire staff of the government is now paying insurance whereas they were not paying it before.  In addition, the city has experienced an increase in taxpayer expenses at the same time.  The city is projecting the image that they are unreceptive toward citizens who are requesting information, which is just going to cause me to ask for more and more information, not less and less.

I like you, Jill, I have liked you since I first met you, and I have nothing against you, nor am I trying to make your job difficult.  The city manager should have ensured that this information was being collected as soon as I submitted my request.  Instead, it appears that they were trying to find a way “not” to give me the information I am requesting.  I am beginning to get the impression that what is needed is to develop a private website, get a lot of people to request public records, and then post “all” of the public records on a website so that the records of the city that are supposed to be “public” are truly “public”.  That you have gotten caught in the middle of all of this is coincidence and not “intentional”.  I suggest that you consult with the city manager and ask for help with this request if necessary.  However, if this is going to take a long time, I will switch gears and come to city hall to view the information in person, which is certainly within my rights as a citizen as public information is to be available to the public at all times.  I requested this information nearly a month ago, if the city manager were serious about providing this information he would have provided you with the request when I submitted it; surely you would have been able to put the package together in that amount of time. The evidence is pretty clear that they don’t “want” me to have this information, which tends to make me very, very suspicious.

As you are probably aware, I am a frequent poster on Radiofreemj.wordpress.com.  Radiofree is an interesting and very useful means of getting the truth to the public.  The local newspapers are reticent or unwilling to print the whole truth about the goings on in local government.  I, on the other hand, am more than willing to post what it true so that the public can see it.  It appears that Radiofree may have a bigger following now than the Lebanon Democrat and the Mt. Juliet News combined:  People are getting the information; albeit very slowly because it just isn’t all that easy to retrieve information from a government that appears to want to operate in secret.

I have reason to believe that impropriety may have occurred regarding this issue, and the difficulty I am having getting the information just further increases my suspicion.  I am dismayed to hear that you really haven’t even started in earnest to prepare the documents I have requested.  I believe that has been caused, not because you are dragging your feet, but because you were never given the request until the other day.  Please understand the importance of providing the public with the information that they request.  Public oversight of government operations is as important as any other aspect of government operations.  The concept that the public not only has the right, but the duty, to oversee the dealings of government goes back at least to Thomas Jefferson who said that we should “bind down their mischief” (he was speaking of public figures).  I hope that the provision of this information will not be delayed any further.  Considering the fact that I have been waiting for this information for almost a month, and considering the fact that the government is already in violation of the law regard its provision, I would hope that the city would put a priority on seeing to it that this information is provided as soon as possible.

Freedom of the press, which in some ways you could consider radiofree as “press” I suppose, and the rights of the public, should not come second or third in the scheme of “things important”, but should come “first” (or at least on equal grounds as any other aspect of government operations).   Not only does this government present itself as not placing an importance on the public being aware of the inner workings of government, it actually seems to abhor public involvement.  The government’s disdain for public scrutiny is evidenced by the city manager reading a portion of Ms. Vollett’s resignation in the last commission meeting where she blames people like myself for staff not being able to do their job, Ms. Vollet’s resignation itself, the Mayor making a statement to the press about “irresponsible members of the community” requesting volumes of information, the delay that I have been experiencing when requesting information, and the City Attorney using a provision of the law that would exempt small portions of the information I requested as a reason not to provide “any” of the information I have requested, and the secret taping of the public works director.  Public scrutiny is being viewed by this government as a “nuisance”, when in fact, it is our duty as citizens.

Jill, when government is allowed to operate in secret bad things start happening…”city managers are forced to resign, public works directors are humiliated in public and forced to retire in fear, city planners end up being retaliated against when they expose the secret goings on, planning attorneys have their jobs replaced with full time attorneys, and zoning administrators lose their jobs for actions that are no different than what public officials do on a regular basis”.

Jill, when government makes mistakes, or when particular people use their office improperly or abuse their office, it is the public that has to pay the bill.  Considering the fact that government has the unlimited authority to tax the populous to cover the costs incurred or caused by the mistakes and/or nefarious actions of public officials, it is important that the public be allowed to look in on government and determine if something has occurred that could reasonably be considered misfeasance or malfeasance on the part of public figures.

Please don’t take my request as a burden…I encourage you to consider your efforts to fulfill my request to be a part of your contribution to what makes this country unique in all of the world…we are a government of the people, by the people, for the people…this government seems to have forgotten that fact and needs to be reminded.

Thank you for your efforts in this process.  I am sure you will do your best.

Butch

Jill responded with the following e-mail:

Butch – I have pulled much of the documentation and am currently reviewing it for the redactions.  I am willing if you like, to sit down and discuss the insurance proposals, bids and all associated information regarding the 08-09 insurance package.  With that being said, we also had a committee that was formed of one member from each department (administration, parks, police & public works).  We had employees submit their names if they were interested and I choose from those names to form the insurance committee.  All of the employees except one had never served on a committee regarding any such decision, but they all had the passion to serve the city and the employees regarding this matter.  I sat on the committee as an advisory position of sorts, and was there to help answer questions, and had the historical knowledge of previous years.  They made the decision to choose a new consultant/broker firm, and then from there, once presented with the bids, after many meetings and discussions,  they made the decision on the insurance package.  All of this was done while consulting with their fellow co-workers, eliciting feedback from them on to what was important in their minds in regards to benefits.

Once they made the decision, it was forwarded to the City Manager for his final approval.  They spent countless hours in meetings, (such as the pay scale committee did) and I am very proud to have been able to serve on this committee with them, as they truly served the employees well by their actions and intentions.   This was not an easy process by no means, and at times it elicited some debates which is very good in this type setting, so that everyone has a voice in matter so crucial as this.  I do honestly feel like this is an outstanding package we have offered to the employees, and in doing so, we had to make a very few “minor” tweaks in the plan to be able to continue to offer the high level of benefits our employees have been so fortunate to retain.

My offer to meet with you though is aside from your request, so if you are interested, please feel free to let me know and I will set aside a time to meet.  I will let you know just as soon as I have completed the reviews on the requested correspondence.

Respectfully,

Jill Johnson

single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. Winston Churchill Jill Johnson

jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a

About this same time I received a letter from Randy Robertson that says the following:

Dear Mr. Harold Huber:

This is in reference to your Open Records request for health insurance bids.

Please be advised that due to the scope and breadth of your request (there were several bidders for our insurance package) it will take extensive time and resources to collect, review and redact personal and federally HIPPA precluded information. With your knowledge of city operations and staffing you are certainly aware that Mt. Juliet has only one assigned Human Resources staffer. I assure you that within the demands of day-to-day workload requirements she will work on your request and will advise you when it is completed.

As a respectful reminder, the City of Mt. Juliet has established a .25 cent per copy charge for printed materials. As first glance it appears the items requested constitute (+/-) about two reams or 1,000 sheets of paper.

If you have concerns you are cordially welcome to discuss this with me; the City Attorney, Mr. Holleman, the Mayor, or any member of the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners.

Then, he bid me “best wishes” and signed off.

Clearly, this letter from the city Manager does not constitute an “estimate”. He knows better than to construe such a letter as an “estimate”, as do each of you. If this is an estimate, than I want to see the estimates that Mr. Robertson accepts for work sent out for bid by the city. If this e-mail is supposed to constitute an estimate it represents the quality of Mr. Robertson’s work for the city. Is this acceptable quality to you?

I then sent Jill the following e-mail:

Jill,

I am in the process of responding to a letter that I received from City Manager Randy Robertson.  In that letter he informed me that there will be about 1000 pages of information.  Please make sure that you do not copy any information on paper, but rather copy it to pdf so that I will not incur any expense for the records I am requesting.

As to this e-mail sent by you.  I am curious as to when this committee was formed.  I would be glad to set a time to sit down with you and go through everything with you.

I will be under my own time crunch over the next two weeks, however, I would hope by that time I will have received the information that I have requested and had a chance to review it.

Thank you for the offer.

Butch

I am going to reprint my last e-mail with some narrative so you will see that I have been very specific here.

Jill,

I am in the process of responding to a letter that I received from City Manager Randy Robertson.  In that letter he informed me that there will be about 1000 pages of information. Please make sure that you do not copy any information on paper, but rather copy it to pdf so that I will not incur any expense for the records I am requesting. (COULD I HAVE BEEN MORE SPECIFIC? “DO NOT COPY ANY INFORMATION ON PAPER”! COPY IT TO PDF SO THAT I WILL NOT INCUR ANY EXPENCE FOR RECORDS I AM REQUESTING”! WASN’T IT CLEAR FROM THIS THAT I DON’T WANT PAPER COPY AND THAT I DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR IT?)

As to this e-mail sent by you.  I am curious as to when this committee was formed.  I would be glad to set a time to sit down with you and go through everything with you.

I will be under my own time crunch over the next two weeks, however, I would hope by that time I will have received the information that I have requested and had a chance to review it.

Thank you for the offer.

Butch

I believe that I was quite clear in this last e-mail to Jill that I did not want paper copies and that I wasn’t intending on paying for this information. So far, I have asked Ms. Johnson to advise me if my request is going to exceed the five hours allowed by law, I have advised her not to print this information to paper, and I have indicated to her that I do not wish to pay for this information.

Jill responded on August 4th:

Butch,

The committee was formed at the end of 2007, I’m not sure of the exact date.  Also, just let me know a date and time you would prefer to meet and I will check my schedule and get back with you.

Thanks,

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson

jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a

single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. Winston Churchill

Then on August 5th Jill wrote:

Butch – I wanted to follow up with you in regards to your email.  Per the city attorney, we do not covert documentation from one medium to another, therefore all documentation will have to be copied.  Once I received the notification, prior to your email request below,  I began making the appropriate copies for the requested documentation.  I have worked through the majority of the paperwork for the redactions, etc.  While I eliminated a great deal of paperwork for duplication, it would still be my approximation that I have approximately 3 hours left on the project.  I have spent over 4.5 hours on this project, and I still have several pieces of documentation with attachments that have to be printed.  Once completed, I can give you the exact count of time and paperwork to fulfill this request.  It appears that the documentation will exceed 750+ pieces of paperwork, and please grant that this is an estimation at this time.  I anticipate on having this completed within the next two days given the workload.

I wanted to go ahead and inform you of this issue, and I can send you a final total upon completion.  If you will please contact me to let me know that you have received this email, I would appreciate it.

Respectfully,

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson

jill.johnson@cityofmtjuliet.org

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a

single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. Winston Churchill

On August 6th I received the following from the city manager:

Mr. Huber:

I will respond to your note.

Request for bids for city health insurance recently closed and I believe as many as 7 or 8 vendors sent in bids.  Their submissions were all in hard copy, and collectively measure up to probably 1,000 pages or more.

As I read your request you have asked to examine all submissions.  While entitled to do so, the city has no requirement to take the hard copy submissions and covert them to a different medium for you.  Also, to protect the best interest of the 25,231 remaining citizens of Mt.

Juliet, we have an obligation to be reasonably reimbursed for time and effort associated with this request.  As you know from previous Open Records requests, our practice and policy is to charge .25 cents for copy reimbursement.  The city attorney also has advised recent changesin state law authorizes the city to be compensated for employee time

associated with meeting open record requests requiring more than 5 man hours.  There may be future changes directed by the state associated with copying costs, but for now we are authorized to sustain previous policies.

Mrs. Johnson has already advised she has spent nearly 3.5 hours to fulfill your request and estimates it will take another 2 to 3 hours. You will be charged her hourly salary for all time spent over 5 hours, and as noted .25 cents per page for additional copies made.  We estimate

the total cost to you to fulfill your request to be in excess of $100. I remind you, based upon your request, Mrs. Johnson has already made copies and invested significant hours in starting to review and redact

the materials.

Finally, I recognize you have not been pleased with the current administration, but that said I am at a loss of why it appears you are striving so hard to posture my efforts for failure.  We do not know one another, we’ve never spoken more than a few words to one another, and we

truly have no insight or knowledge into one another.  I realize my remarks may well be circulated across the city or in some blog within a matter of minutes . . . that will be your choice.  I am simply asking you to give the new team a chance.  You are welcome to personally discuss this with me or Mr. Holleman at our offices, but I do not plan

to engage in further email correspondence.

Respectfully,

R. Robertson

I had already told Ms. Johnson not to exceed 5 hours worth of work on my request. Ms. Johnson was obviously working on developing a file that contained information for which I did not request and she was spending time making copies on paper, which I not only didn’t ask for, but that I instructed that she not do for my request. The truth is that Mr. Robertson has no idea how much time was spent on my request and how much additional time was spent in his effort to run up a bill that he hoped to charge me. My disdain or sheer pleasure with the current administration has nothing to do with my right to request public records. Mr. Robertson’s last e-mail to me is an official correspondence and therefore his statements made in that e-mail regarding my attitude toward this commission are unacceptable. I have a right to blog all I want, and his assertion that I am posturing for his failure was unacceptable as well. Mr. Robertson seems to think I have a personal vendetta against him because I request public records. If you will remember, before Mr. Robertson ever showed up in Mt. Juliet I had requested the six page writing that was submitted to Mayor Elam in the Reitz case, I had requested copies of all of your oaths of office, I requested a copy of videos of at least two commission meetings, I requested copies of e-mails between Linda Elam and the city attorney, I requested a recording of the conversation between Ray Justice and Kenny Martin, and I requested other information that I was freely given again and again. The only difference was that the city didn’t have a request form to fill out, they just gave me the information I sought. The reason Mr. Robertson feels under attack is because he is closed minded, stubborn, and, in my opinion, hostile toward citizens who want to become involved in the governmental process, as is our rights under the constitution.

I responded to Mr. Robertson in the following E-mail:

Mr. Robertson,

Again, I encourage you to re-read my request for information then observe and follow the law.

Respectfully,

I was telling Mr. Robertson to re-read my request for information then observe and follow the law because he clearly hasn’t done so and he cannot charge me for time spent making copies and then charge me the 25 cents (even though he says .25 cents here) per copy. Mr. Robertson disagrees with me on this point, however, I have verified with the open records office that the city cannot charge for time making copies unless that time exceeds 5 hours. In other words, if you want to charge 25 cents per copy, that charge cannot include labor until the time spent on a single request has exceeded 5 hours. I have done some research on the price of copies. I can go to office depot and have 1000 copies made for 6 cents per copy. Now, that 6 cents includes labor, cost of equipment, cost of ink, cost of paper, cost of electric, cost of the building, costs for accounting, costs for business taxes, and every other conceivable expense that can go into the cost of making copies “AND” office depot is in business to make a profit, which is probably set on a model of a 15% to 20% profit margin. How on earth could the cost of a copy to the city come to 25 cents when the copy machine company only charges between 1 and 4 cents per copy? You simply cannot justify the position of 25 cents. (Even though the open records office charges 20 cents per copy, I don’t think even their charges could stand up to the standard of the state legislation, nor do I believe that it would pass the State Attorney General’s opinion, for what is “actual costs”.) In time you will find out that I am right about the cost of copies.

On August 6th I also sent this e-mail to Jill Johnson:

Jill,

I am responding to your e-mail to let you know that I have received it.  Please refer to my original request.  I feel the city (not meaning you) is playing a little game here, so I am not going to say any more on the matter.  I will once again request that I be provided the information I have requested as per my original request.

Thank you,

Butch Huber

Obviously, at this point I felt that Mr. Robertson was launching a hostile attack against me and was trying to run up a large bill for me regardless of my admonishments that I would not pay a bill and to follow the law regarding my request. If Mr. Robertson could not fulfill my request as stated it was incumbent upon him to deny my request as stated and advise me to resubmit in a manner that he could fulfill, not take it upon himself to simply provide the information in an expensive (to me) fashion. If you read the new act regarding public records you will see the spirit, if not the letter, of the law states that he is to provide this information in the least expensive manner (to me) way possible. I retreated into my original request so as to limit what Mr. Robertson’s options were so that he could not run up a bill.

On August 6th I sent the following to Mr. Robertson:

Mr. Robertson

Based on some of the information I have been receiving, I would suggest that you review my request for public records as it appears that you are not fulfilling my request as stated.

Butch Huber

Here, I have gone back to the strict language of my original request. This e-mail to Jill negates any effort on the part of anyone to require me to pay for the receipt of information outside the original parameters of my official request for public information under the terms and conditions outlined in that request. It had become quite clear to me that they were hell bent on running up a bill for this material, a bill I did not intend to pay.

On August 11th, I received a letter from Jill Johnson, this is what it says:

Dear Mr. Huber:

I have completed your open records request, for the information relating to the City of Mt. Juliet’s employee benefits package and subsequent bids. Under the open records act, the first five (5) hours of work are computed at no charge, which includes copies made during such time. In addition to the five (5) hours of time allotted per the records law, I spent an additional 1.75 hours of time researching the requested documentation for redactions, due to the privacy under the HIPPA laws for the personal information included within the requested documentation.

Therefore the cost for time spent above the allotted five (5) hours of time, is $56.29. I will have the records available through the receptionist office for your receipt.

They simply cannot justify this bill as they have not provided me with the information I requested as per my request and they compiled information I did not want. I am not responsible for this bill and they still have failed to provide me the information as requested. They are seriously in violation of the law and I have a right to take this city to court to seek relief. The judge has a right to award costs to the plaintiff in such cases. From what I understand, in the state of Tennessee there has never been a case where a plaintiff was not won in a case such as this. Are you sure you want to take this course of action with me? I think all of the evidence in this matter suggests that I am right and that the law is on my side.

On August 19th I received the following letter from Jill Johnson:

Re:open Records request

Mr. Huber,

I just wanted to contact you as a follow-up from a previous letter & e-mail on August 11, 2008 regarding the status of the Open Records request you made for the insurance benefits paperwork. The request was completed on the date, and I included details as to reference the additional cost above and beyond the 5 hours allotted by law.

I have the request available for you to pick up at the receptionist desk at your convenience. I just wanted to make sure that you were in receipt of my original notification. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

My request couldn’t be “picked up” from the receptionist’s desk because I requested this information in the form of an e-mail. I advised them not to print this request to paper, they did it anyway. I wanted the information sent to me by e-mail.

On August 20th I went to city hall to view the material that they had compiled in response to my request. I sent Mr. Robertson the following e-mail in response to what I saw.

I sent the following e-mail to Mr. Robertson:

Mr. Robertson,

I came to city hall today, as you already know, and I took a look at the material that has been compiled in response to my request for public information, (although what you have compiled is not what I have asked for).  I find it extremely interesting that I have been told that the city attorney says that the city isn’t required to convert information, meaning that you don’t have to provide me information in a form other than how it is kept by the city, yet what you have compiled is nothing but converted information.  Your staff has printed out e-mail after e-mail in hard copy rather than provide that information in the form of an e-mail as I have requested.

I believe that this has been nothing but an effort on your part to cause a significant bill in order for me to obtain the information that I am requesting.  Once again, please review my request, and do as I have asked.  I find this matter to be less than professional.  If this information were originally in hardcopy and had not been converted to an electronic file it would be one thing, however, in order to develop this file in hardcopy you had to convert the information to an alternate form and the only reason I can come up with to explain why you would do such a thing would be so that you could hand me a substantial bill.

You personally have told me that the information that I have requested is available, but that it comes at a cost.  Mr. Robertson, I am not responsible for this information having been put in the current form, you are responsible for that.  Considering that you are responsible for this expense, and considering that the expense is not a fulfillment of a request on my part, I am going to suggest that you be charged what I would have been charged for this information if it were in fact produced as per my request.

The new law states that I have a right to obtain information in any form in which it is kept by the municipality.  The new law also states that information is to be provided to me in the least costly (to me) form as possible.  The new law also states that you have to either supply the information that I seek within 7 business days or provide me with a denial on the appropriate form.  Additionally, you are required to provide me with an estimate of costs, which I also requested that you do before you began work to fulfill my request.  Mr. Robertson,  you have failed on all points listed here.  It appears to me that there is something in this information that you do not want me to find.

I was told that Jill Johnson had to redact information before I can be supplied with this information, however, upon review of the information it does not appear to me that there is any information that has been redacted.  Now, either the information has not been properly redacted, meaning that any correspondence containing exempt information has been kept from me in its entirety, which is not in keeping with the law, or there was never any information that needed to be redacted in the first place, which would mean that you are trying to charge me for time spent redacting information that was not redacted.

Citizens are to be provided information as requested as quickly as practicable.  However, you seem to be trying to make it as difficult as possible for me to obtain information.  You have stated that you have queried staff as to how many requests for public information I have submitted, as if you are investigating me and what I am up to.  This runs counter to the intention of citizen access to public information.  To the extent possible requests for public records are to be kept private so as to limit the intimidation factor.  Now, you know me well enough to know that I don’t care who knows what I am doing, in fact, I go to great lengths to let the whole world know what I am doing, so this whole mess you have created is nothing but more cannon fodder for me, however, it shows to what extent this city is willing to go to make it an unpleasant process to obtain public information.

To the commission:  When are you going to step in and ensure that citizen’s rights are upheld?  There is obviously something of special interest in this material or there wouldn’t be such an attempt to create a huge bill in order for me to obtain it.  I am next going to request a copy of the contract between the company that supplies copiers to the city and the city to determine the actual cost to produce a copy.  I am going to prove that the city is drastically overcharging for copies of public information.  I will also be requesting a copy of invoices for paper to determine the cost of paper.  I just thought I would give you a head start so that for once you can get out in front of what I am doing and correct it before I make a federal case out of it.

Butch Huber

I then sent the following to Mr. Robertson, to each of you commissioners and to the media and to the city attorney:

To all:

Questions must be answered regarding the recent gaff between Mr. Sellers and the Chronicle. I cannot conceive a possible scenario where it doesn’t turn out that Mr. Sellers has lied to the public regarding this matter.

If what was reported in the paper is correct, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, Mr. Sellers approached Tomi Wiley and stated that he was giving her a chance to retract her quote that Commissioner Sellers had said “they’ve got reason to be worried”. Mr. Sellers said that he went back and looked at the instant replay of the meeting and that he had asked other commissioners and that he didn’t say what he was quoted as having said.

The paper said that Tomi went to the city to obtain a copy of the meeting but that there was no recording of the segment of the meeting where Mr. Sellers had made his statement.

Now, if Mr. Sellers had seen the “instant replay” he would have clearly seen that he did in fact say; “they’ve got reason to be worried”. So, to say that he watched the instant replay and that he didn’t say what he was quoted in the paper as having said is very hard to believe; he clearly said; “they’ve got reason to be worried”.

If Mr. Sellers didn’t go back and view the instant replay it would mean that he lied to the public and that he misused his position as city commissioner.

If Mr. Sellers went back to look at the tape and that segment was missing altogether he surely would have noticed an 18 minute segment was missing, right? I mean, how could he have missed his entire statement and not notice it?

If he did go back and look at the replay and then, after he viewed the replay, somehow that recording was erased, it is important to determine what happened and who caused it to be erased.

The pieces of this story don’t fit together and I believe the public has a right to the truth in this matter. I can’t conceive of a scenario under which it turns out that Mr. Sellers hasn’t misled, or outright lied, to the public and/or under which he hasn’t misused his office and abused his authority and powers as a commissioner. I can’t conceive of a scenario like that, but I am willing to listen as one is explained.

Please don’t consider this to be a complaint on my part, yet, but rather and admonishment that you should launch an investigation on your own as a commission. If there is a legitimate explanation it should be discovered, but if there isn’t a legitimate explanation then I believe you have a duty to take appropriate action. This commission has proven in the past that you will not investigate a legitimate complaint from me, so, if I am forced to pursue the truth in this matter I will likely do so through the grand jury.

I will even tell you why this is such a concern to me. Considering the recent publicity regarding improper inspections of homes, the fire protection issues, the history of one or more members of the board of commissioners crafting deals with developers, the issues surrounding Mayor Elam and builders, and other questionable matters within this government, I want to be sure that no steps have been taken by leadership or staff of this government to destroy a public record or to deceive the public at large. Further, I want to be sure that no developer has illegally exerted any influence on a public official.

In addition to this matter is a matter of public records. In the beginning of July I submitted a request for public records concerning health insurance. In that request I asked that an estimate be developed for the cost to me for obtaining those records before the city began to compile the information I requested. Further, I asked that the records be delivered to me by e-mail.

The new public records act was in force when the request was made, so the city has to follow the new law. In that new law it clearly states that I am entitled to an estimate of costs, as I requested. The new law also clearly states that I am entitled to receive those records in any form kept by the city. What that means is if the city has the record in digital, electronic format, I am entitled to receive that information by digital, electronic format. As the City Manager and his staff corresponded with me regarding this request I continued to advise them to refer to my original request. I was advised that the city attorney had stated that the city was not required to convert formats. I believe this was in response to an e-mail that I had sent to Jill Johnson advising her that I didn’t want the information in the form of Photo-static copies, as she was preparing, but rather I wanted the information in the form of an e-mail. I even advised Ms. Johnson that the city’s copiers had a pdf function that would enable her to copy the records to pdf as easily, or even easier, than making photostatic copies. I even told her that if she needed I could have someone show her how to do it.

Eventually, was advised that the information had been compiled and that it was ready for pick up. I got a letter in the mail stating what the bill would be for that information as well. I went to city hall and observed the compiled information only to discover that each and every piece of information I looked at was an e-mail that had been printed out. The city wasn’t required to convert the information, yet that is exactly what they did. The new law states that I am to receive the information in the least costly (to me) manner practicable. Printing out information certainly wasn’t the least costly manner possible.

In addition to all of this, I formally had requested the correspondence that was sent and received between April 1st of this year and July 1st of this year, however, the information that was compiled to fulfill my formal request included correspondence from other months as well, in fact it included correspondence from several other months. The reason this is important is because the city must provide 5 hours of time to my request at no charge to me, however, they used 6.5 hours to compile this information. Now, the city is trying to charge me $56 for this information. It would be impossible for the city to determine exactly what time was spent working on fulfilling my request for information and what time was spent working on information I didn’t request, so how can the city charge me anything at this point? In fact, I am not responsible for any of the charges because I was never given the information I requested in the manner in which I requested it and I wasn’t given the estimate of charges before they began their work. In fact, during my correspondence with Ms. Johnson, I advised her not to exceed 5 hours on my request. I advised her that I would submit an additional request or have someone else request the additional information if necessary, but that I had no intention of paying for this information.

The city manager seems unwilling to fulfill and follow the law on public records and he also seems to want to do whatever he can to charge me for access to public records, even if it means violating or failing to follow the law in order to charge me. Now, we mysteriously have a public records debacle on our hands with this fire protection issue as well.

According to the new public records act, my records request was officially denied because the city failed to deliver the records to me within 7 business days and failed to formally advise me within 7 days that my request was either denied or that the city would require additional time to provide it. According to the new law, I have a right to seek relief from the courts on this matter, especially since my request has still not been fulfilled. I am tempted to seek the assistance of an attorney in this matter to force the city to comply with the public records act. Please look into why it is so hard to receive public records from this government according to law and please look into the issue of missing public records (the video recording of the infamous commission meeting mentioned herein) as well.

Again, this is not a formal complaint, I am trying to avoid having to make a major deal of these issues, however, you know me well enough to know that I will stand up for my rights. You have a duty to the public in these matters as a function of your positions as elected and appointed officials, please do your duty.

Now that you have what I have regarding this matter, I will draw some things to you attention. Remember when Mr. Robertson said that he had received so much information in “hardcopy”? I quickly reviewed the information compiled for me, it appears to me that all of the information was received in the form of an e-mail. Perhaps I am wrong, but that is what it appears to me to be. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose that he has the information, or most of it, in the form of a hard copy. If he can copy it he can just as easily convert it to pdf as the copiers at city hall have that function. (rather than provide that information electronically, saving trees, he ensured that it was printed to paper.) The new law either mandates or recommends (I think there is a lot of uncertainty on all side as to what the law actually says) that I be given the information in any format in which it is kept. If the city can convert e-mail to hardcopy, it can also convert hardcopy to e-mail. They clearly have converted e-mail to hardcopy, so why wouldn’t they convert hardcopy to e-mail? Is it because Mr. Robertson was trying to charge me a lot of money for this request?

If you can’t read this series of communications and discern that Mr. Robertson is clearly hostile toward me for requesting public records then just read on.

On September 2nd of this year I went to city hall to request a copy of the letter of intent submitted to the commission just before the last commission meeting. On either Thursday the 4th or Friday the 5th I called city hall to check on the status of my request. I was told the city attorney had it and that he was out of the office. On Monday the 8th, I went to city hall to either obtain a copy of the letter or to view it. I was concerned as to what the city was about to do with this YMCA deal and I wanted to know what was happening before you had a chance to vote on it. I was ushered back to the conference table outside of Mr. Robertson’s office where he eventually met with me only to tell me that I still owe a bill from a previous request and that until I pay that bill he is not required (or allowed, I can’t remember which word he used) to provide me with further public records. I advised him that he had not provided me with what I asked for and that I don’t intend to pay a bill for something I haven’t received. Mr. Robertson only repeated himself. He went on to tell me how I have submitted 10 public records requests since he has been city manager and that he has to be concerned about the needs of the other 25,000+ citizens in this city. Mr. Robertson was so upset that his cheeks were fluttering, so rather than stand there and fight him on his turf, I requested to “view” the letter of intent. He denied my request to view public information on the basis that I have not paid the previous bill. I walked out of the office, went home, got my son, and went back to city hall. My son submitted a request for public information. My son does not owe this city anything (nor do I, but Mr. Robertson doesn’t seem to understand that) so he could not deny my son’s request on the basis of a bill being owed. Mr. Robertson was very upset at this point and accused me of subterfuge. He finally gave me the information I requested, but before I left he threatened me that he would not provide me with any more public information until I pay this bill he has generated for me.

I called the open records office and spoke with Ms. Ann Butterworth. During my conversations with her I have discovered that some of the law regarding public records requests is still in a state of flux. However, she stated that she knew of no provision that would allow Mr. Robertson to deny my request to “view” public records information even if I did owe a bill for a previous records request. She told me in a subsequent phone conversation that she has now advised the city attorney of that fact as well. Also during my conversation with Ms. Butterworth it became evident to me that the city had actually entered into denial of my request by default because they had not adhered to the new law. In other words, once they were in a place where my request was denied by default, anything they do after that point should be considered of no effect. Let me boil that down even further…even if the rest of what they did was exactly correct, they had already denied my request by default, therefore, I owe no bill, and Mr. Robertson is in violation of the law.

When it became clear to me that Mr. Robertson was being hostile toward me I reverted to my original, official, request. Nothing more or less should have been provided to me under the strict guidelines of my request.

If you read the new law you will find that Mr. Robertson is required to respond to be in very specific terms, and in some cases, on specific forms. I believe you will find that Mr. Robertson, in an effort to make things difficult for me, has made a complete and utter mess of this situation. There is no way at this point the city can determine exactly how much time was spent on fulfilling my request and how much time was spent trying to force me to pay for information I have not asked for or to deliver it to me in a way I have not asked for.

At this point I feel that Mr. Robertson is denying my legitimate and legal rights on the basis that I have not paid a bill that is either not accurate or fraudulent. Please open formal proceedings to force Mr. Robertson to comply with the law and provide me with the information I am seeking. I have been a tremendous value to this community by rooting out other issues and bringing them to the forefront, you should be glad that I am willing to invest the time to get to the bottom of things. This insurance premium increase appears to me to represent perhaps as much as $300,000 to $400,000 in additional expenses per year. Isn’t it worth it to you to find out what caused those changes and look into ways of possibly cutting those costs? Unless I have unfettered access to the non-exempt public records I will never be able to tell what caused the increases. I know of ways to cut the costs to the city if you force him to comply with my request. But that is all secondary, isn’t it? The question is, will you stand by and allow this city manager to tread on the rights of citizens or will you bring him in line? Citizens have the right to ask for public records for any reason without limitation. Regardless of “why” I ask for information, you are obligated by law and oath of office to ensure that I receive that information in accordance with law.

Also of note to you…Mr. Robertson is stating that the city charges .25 cents per copy. This is a very big error. The city charges 25 cents per copy, not .25 cents per copy: It charges $0.25, not $.0025 dollars. He made this same mistake on two different occasions, so please don’t just consider it to be a simple “typo” on his part. Mr. Robertson obviously does not understand the English Language as he takes things out of context of the very sentence they are written in, ignoring limiters placed within the sentence, and he doesn’t understand how to state fees for copies on official correspondence. Why do I bring this up? Because Mr. Robertson is trying to use the fact that I requested “all” correspondence in my official request, even though I gave the term “all” a qualifier in the same sentence, yet he can’t even get these simple things right in his correspondence?

I think at best Mr. Robertson needs a formal reprimand for his behavior and be forced to publicly apologize to me for embarrassing me in city hall in front of a civilian and in front of city employees by causing such a stir, raising his voice, becoming very angry, and for attempting to make me look bad in a public meeting. His behavior is reprehensible and unacceptable. Mr. Robertson’s last words to me were “if you are wrong I would hope that you would say so”. Mr. Robertson is clearly wrong here, I suggest that you make him acknowledge that he has treated me improperly, direct him to provide public record information according to the law, and to discontinue his efforts against me. Further, the apology would just be a sign of class and dignity on his part and yours. He is clearly wrong, but will “he” admit it?

Please deal with this matter promptly and respond to me with how you intend to handle this on an official basis.

I am sending this correspondence to you, the governor, the open records office, and the media.

Sincerely,

Harold C. Huber.


5 responses to “Open Records2

  1. Pingback: The City of Mt. Juliet really doesn’t want citizens to request public records « Radio Free Mt. Juliet

  2. Butch Huber

    Folks,
    I am sorry about the length of this letter. I had to present the facts to the commission and these are the facts. I needed to build a case they couldn’t refute. I think I have done that.

  3. Butch Huber

    Consider what the federal government is doing right now with all of this bailout talk. Some of you may be “for” a bailout, while others may be “against” a bailout. I am not going to discuss whether I am “for” or “against” a bailout, but I am down right angry that there is a need for a bailout. And I will tell you “why”.

    Any issue under which any government agency “can” end up in a place where it needs to bailout a private, or even quasi-public, entity, the government should have strict regulation and oversight. This government is about to spend $700,000,000,000 to bail out the financial sector of this country. That money will ultimately come from you and I. Meanwhile, all of the investors that have enjoyed the ROI on their investments over the years will walk away with their profits on those investments, CEO’s will walk away with all the high-end salary they have earned over the years, high level officers of those corporations will walk away with their high level salaries, they will all walk away with very big golden parachute severance packages, and even those put in charge of watching our backs, those who failed us so miserably, will come out of this virtually unscathed. They will all profit from their risky business practices, risky business practices approved or accepted by their shareholders (either through ignorance or apathy), risky businesses that government did nothing to stop, and you and I, once again, get to pay the tab for this kind of behavior!

    Now, they say that it won’t really cost us $700,000,000,000. But is that the point? Isn’t the point that investors and business people are doing risky business, and when it goes wrong, they want you and I to bail them out? If you go out and hang a shingle somewhere and open a shop or a business, and it fails, who will bail you out? What is different about this on a per investor basis than if you were to have a failing business (Except that you stand to lose a lot more)? Politicians have pushed the economy for many years because they fear a downturn in the economy will be viewed very negatively by the voters. They “allow” mismanagement in these companies because it fuels the economy. They look the other way so that these businesses can boost the economy for a time so they can get re-elected. Even when I was young I discovered that things in this world operate like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to another. If you pull a pendulum in one direction and let go it will swing to nearly that distance in the other direction. So, the further you push the economy, which operates like a pendulum, in one direction, the further it will swing in the other direction. President Carter pushed the pendulum in a negative direction, Reagan pushed it back toward the positive, then he did something unique, he raised the whole pendulum vertically. This allowed for unprecedented prosperity while at the same time prevented him from having to push the pendulum too far to the positive. Folks, if you push a pendulum, it is going to swing both ways, that is the nature of a pendulum. The only way to raise the end of the pendulum without making it swing is to do it vertically.

    Over the years, instead of looking for ways to vertically raise that economic pendulum, administrations have sought to pull it left and right, and at the same time tried to keep the economy in a climb. Its as if they were trying to lock the pendulum at the top of its arc and then spin it left and right, depending who was in charge. Folks, the back and forth is a good thing, not a bad thing. It is a natural part of the business cycle. It isn’t something to be feared, it is something to be embraced. Only when government sticks its big fat hand in and gets involved in something it has no business being involved with do we have to worry.

    When my children were young the doctor told us that whenever there was a kid with chicken pox get our children around them so that they would catch it. He said it is much better for them to get them as a child than wait until they are older. We have been told that it isn’t healthy to live in a germ free environment. We know that when we discover new native cultures not to approach them without the proper precautions because they haven’t been exposed to the diseases we have and the have no resistance to them and we will kill them. We also know that plants need the wind in order for them to build strength. Just as all of this is true, it is also true that if you shelter a generation from the trials of unfavorable economic downturns you weaken society. We “need” downturns just like we “want” upturns in our economy. What we don’t “need” is severe downturns that are brought on by politicians and corporate fat cats that manipulate markets for their own personal gain.

    Perhaps the day and age of the risk of an investment in the stock market being limited to the investment itself needs to be over. Perhaps it should be the shareholders of the stock in all of those banks that get stuck with the bill. (I bet that would cause a lot more caution) Maybe we need to go back to all of the people who enjoyed returns from those stocks over the years and extract the $700,000,000,000 from their assets. I don’t have stock in any of those business and never have, therefore, I have had absolutely no say in how they were run, yet I am going to pay for their failure? When was I ever invited to a shareholder’s meeting? When was I ever asked my opinion on how things are being run? When did I ever vote on the board of directors of those companies? When did I do anything to cause their failure? Again, this isn’t about whether or not we should bail them out, it is about policy and procedure.

    So “what does this have to do with open records” you might ask? Everything! This government, known as the Mt. Juliet City Commission, has the ability to tax you and I without limitation on our property. I will say that again….this city commission can tax you and I without limitation! No matter what kind of mistakes they make, they can overcome it with a property tax! This taxing authority creates a collective in Mt. Juliet. In other words, we don’t own our property, we rent it from the Mt. Juliet collective. In other words, they can increase our property taxes so high that we can’t afford to live here, and if we don’t pay those taxes, they can come and take away our homes. That does not sound like homeownership to me, it sounds like we are renting our homes. We build the homes, we pay the interest on the loans, we re-pay the principle, but the collective really “owns” the property.

    That is exactly why we need to be able to inspect public records. We need people to guard over us and protect us from the politicians we elect. If I were a politician I would hope that you would watch over me. I would hope that you would stay right on top of everything I was doing and keep me honest and keep me on the straight-and-narrow. I would hope that you would inspect what I was doing and make sure that I wasn’t making mistakes and make sure that I knew all of the issues before I voted. I would want your input and opinion. I would invite you to search through public records and speak at public meetings. And I would want you to do the same with “all” public officials. I would hate to make a mistake that cost you one red cent. However, this commission and city government feels differently. To them, I, and others like me, are a nuisance. I can’t stop what companies I don’t own are doing, I don’t have a right there, but I do have a right to ensure that I do my part to stop government from doing something that is going to cost me money. Unlike the stock market where your risk is limited to the investment you have in the business, with a government that has unlimited taxing authority over landowners, our risk isn’t limited until you have included the value of everything we own!

    Let me let you in on a little secret. I went to city hall back in the beginning of May and requested the budget workbook for the upcoming city budget ordinance. In a moment I will tell you why, but right now I need to help those who don’t know the budget process catch up on a few things.

    For those who don’t know, the city manager is required to put together a budget every year and submit a budget ordinance proposal to the commission. Putting together a sound and solid budget ordinance just happens to be the most important thing he does all year. If he gets that wrong, everything is going to be messed up. It’s kind of like building a financial house. If you mess up the foundation (the budget) everything else in the house is going to be messed up and you are going to have to work extra hard to end up with a sound home, if it is even possible. The city manager submits a budget ordinance proposal to the commission, and they in turn either vote for his proposal, amend his proposal and pass the amended version of his proposal, or the vote not to pass the budget and send it back to the city manager. Passing the budget just happens to be the most important thing the city commission does each year. The budget ordinance is the basis from which the commission does business throughout the entire year. They can Amend it throughout the year, but it is kind of like going back and trying to add to the foundation of your house once the concrete sets up and hardens…it just isn’t as good as if it were done properly to start with. In order for the commission to be able to make a good judgment on the budget ordinance, the city manager compiles a budget workbook. In that budget workbook are spreadsheets that contain certain projected and actual revenues for the previous year, the current year, and the projections for the next year (the year the budget applies to). The budget workbook also includes spreadsheets and other information regarding where they city manager intends to spend those revenues. The other things that is listed in the budget workbook are projected fund balances at the end of the fiscal year (the amount of money projected to be left over from the current year). The commissioners are supposed to pour through this budget ordinance and scrutinize what the city manager has put before them. Now, the general fund revenue spreadsheets have 7 columns of importance. There are five separate categories, or funds, that make up the entire spreadsheet. Each fund has a grand total at the bottom of its worksheet, and the last worksheet contains a grand total of all of the columns in each of the five funds added together. So, if you were to sit down with a calculator and add up the grand total of each of the five funds in each of the columns, those five numbers should add up to the corresponding grand total listed at the end of the spreadsheet. Let me make that easier to conceptualize. If you have ever worked with excel spreadsheet, you know about autosum. Autosum allows you to calculate all of the numbers in one column or row. (Actually you can calculate many rows and columns at the same time, but that isn’t the point)
    Imagine all five funds listed on one speadsheet, one right above another, and autosuming the entire column. Now, go back, copy each fund onto separate spreadsheets and then autosum each column in the separate funds. Now take the grand total from each column of each of the separate funds, input them in another spreadsheet and the autosum them. The numbers you just got should add up to the same numbers you got with you autosumed all of the numbers in the first exercise. Mr. Robertson’s numbers didn’t add up! They didn’t add up! I will say that again…They Didn’t add up!!!

    Now, flashback to the first commission meeting in May. Go back and listen to Randy Robertson’s statements. He says that the numbers aren’t adding up!!! In that commission meeting he basically told the commission that he was going to hand them a piece of garbage so that he can comply with a May 15 deadline under which he is required to submit the budget workbook to them, and that he would fix it later! He had since September of last year when he came onboard to get this budget organized and ready! YOUR COMMISSION ACCEPTED THAT!!!! THEY WOULDN”T HAVE ACCEPTED IT FROM ROB SHEARER!!!

    FOLKS, of the seven numbers listed as grand totals, when I first looked at the budget workbook, 6 were wrong!!!! Now, I want you to know that small errors, while they should never be overlooked, are easy to miss, however they were missing errors as large as $4,000,000!!!! HOW DO YOU DO THAT? By the time I could get to city hall to help them fix this, one of the six errors was fixed, although Ms. Vollet for the life of her could not figure out “how” it got fixed. Ironically, the only number that “got fixed” was Mr. Robertson’s projection for the upcoming budget year!!!! This is evidence that they figured out that there was a problem with their numbers, but they didn’t know how to fix it properly so they manually manipulated the numbers!!!! Later on, we found out what the problem was and it turned out to be a summing error in the spreadsheet. Watch closely here…formula errors don’t fix themselves!!! Mr. Robertson, or one of his staff, had to have manually manipulated the spreadsheet in order to make his projections add up correctly, yet they did nothing to correct the other figures!!! Then Mr. Robertson began blaming the errors on the prior administration. The problem, as it turned out, was that they messed up the summing formula in the spreadsheet. How was that discovered? Because I cared enough to dig in and I wouldn’t quite until they fixed it. Mr. Robertson tried to make me look silly in a city commission meeting by saying that Ms. Vollet has a masters degree. That degree didn’t find the cause now did it? Wasn’t it that “pesky Butch Huber” that found that problem?

    The reason “why” is was digging into the budget workbook had to do with the YMCA project. I believed, and still do, that the city commission was going to illegally use bond funds to purchase the old MJES site (Mount Juliet Elementary School) and then turn around and give that land, or a significant portion of that land, to the YMCA. I knew that in order for them to do what they were attempting, they would have to create a budget trail. I wanted to find that trail and ensure that they were not going to commit bond fraud. If they get the city sued it is you and I who pay the bill. Don’t I have a right, if not a duty, to ensure that I do everything I can to keep us from being sued? You do realize that, at the end of the day, when all these lawsuits are settled, even if the city has the money to pay them in the general fund, it is you and I who are paying the bill, don’t you? A lawsuit over a $10,000,000 bond fraud could cripple this city for some time.

    Had they not been trying to do something with the YMCA they had no business doing, and had I not been hot on the trail of the YMCA issue, I wouldn’t have asked for the budget workbook. Had I not asked for the budget workbook, I wouldn’t have noticed the error in the speadsheets. Had they listened to me about the errors, which they didn’t, (In fact they fought me tooth and nail about them. They weren’t saying that the budget was flawlesst, but that the errors were the prior administration’s fault) I would have moved on. But the more they fought me, the more I dug in. Then, it came to my attention that there was a huge increase in the cost of health insurance. This increase in the budget isn’t a small deal, it is a large deal. If not corrected it could cost us millions of dollars over time. So, I asked for public records on the health insurance issue. Wow, you would think I asked for the launch codes to our nuclear missiles! Now, I am convinced that there is something being hidden from you and I. I wanted this information in the form of a PDF so that I could post it right here on Radiofree so that you and the whole world could see what has been going on and were this whole thing is going. Mr. Robertson refused to give the information to me in PDF form, even though it is just as easy to provide it in PDF as it is to copy it, if not easier (Not to mention that it flies in the face of the attempts by government to reduce the use of paper.) I will eventually get the information I am seeking, but as long as Mr. Robertson wants to fight me on public records I will stand and fight. He is clearly wrong and is setting himself up to be fired for cause…which will mean that he gets no severance package. Perhaps he knows, if I ever get my hands on “all” of the public records regarding this issue, his fate will be sealed anyway, so why not fight me to keep me from it? Foolish of him, because “this” commission would be the better commission for him to come in front of if he messed up. Now, he is going to have to deal with the next commission, which will likely have a couple different commissioners on it. Perhaps they won’t find his aggression toward citizens so amusing.

    So, from the outside, it may appear to you that I am just looking for something to cause a stir, when in fact, if they would just stop acting like a bunch of asses and give me the information I am seeking and respond to what I inform them of, and stop doing harm to the community and to employees and citizens, I would just go away. I do have better things to do than to stir up trouble in government; I don’t, however, have better things to do than to stand up for my rights, stand up for the rights of others, and to watch over government.

  4. Butch Huber

    Folks,

    Do you know that the city is going to self-insure health insurance? They had that on the agenda on Monday. Do you know what self-insurance means? Neither do I. But I can tell you what it sounds like. It sounds like the city has elected to pay the bills for healthcare out of the general fund rather than pay premiums to health insurance companies.

    I hope I am wrong.

    Because if I am right, we are in big trouble. We don’t have the law of large numbers working in our favor. If I am right, the city is electing to spread the risk of insuring 110 employees across about 7,500 to 8,000 households. Let me put that in another light. Let’s assume that the employees have a 1,000,000 life time coverage. That would mean that every employee with the city is covered up to a maximum coverage of $1,000,000. Now, I may be wrong, but I don’t think I am when I say that government agencies cannot refuse to hire someone on the basis that they have a serious medical problem. In fact, I don’t believe that they can even ask questions about the person’s health. You can’t see a person’s blood pressure or their diabetes (unless perhaps you are trained in that area). So if they hire that guy or gal that has a blood pressure of 180 over 118, they become a financial powder keg of a liability to the city…a heart attack or a stroke may be just a matter of time. Once they are insured they are now your responsibility and my responsibility! Is it possible that their limit is 5 million? How the hell would we know? The city is operating in secret!!!! They don’t want us to know the truth!!!! Is it possible that there is “no” limit? Folks, all it is going to take is two or three people to run up a million dollars each in medical bills, which is certainly possible, and for a couple people to win a multi-million dollar lawsuit (which, with this commission isn’t only “possible”, it’s “probable”), and this city is bankrupted. Oh, yeah, I know what they can do! They can raise the property taxes to an average of about $1,000 per year per home and they can overcome just about anything!!!

    “OR”…..”OR”….they can stop causing harm to people and stop making mistakes and blunders and do things right to protect you and I!!!!

    Folks, I participated in a payroll committee a few years ago. In that committee we worked long and hard to develop a fair package for the employees. Part of that package was that the city pay the employee’s premium for health insurance. The city commission passed that measure and the city employees had their health insurance premiums completely paid for. Now, whether or not you agree with that, it is comparable to the other markets around the area. Whatever has happened with the health insurance issue has wiped out what we worked so hard to put in place for the employees in that committee. Now, I am told that there are employees that aren’t taking their medications because they can’t afford them.

    Don’t you agree that it is time for us to get to the bottom of all of this and find out what they hell Randy Robertson has done here?!!!!!!

  5. Lori Ruotolo

    Hi Butch,

    You are correct. Self-Insured or self-funded plans are funded entirely by the employer. Usually, this is done to give them better flexibility in what they want to cover.

    The big difference is in how the plan is administered. If the plan is self-administered, they will require full-time staff to handle the paperwork and approvals as well as not have the negotiating power to lower their costs with the medical providers.

    If the plan is administered by a large insurance company, then they can benefit from those substantially lower medical charges that have already been negotiated with the medical providers.

    The plan itself would also need to spell out what they will cover. Will they cover just emergency services or will they cover things such as fertility treatments which can be very expensive?

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