Friday, December 27, 2013

Public Records Request - Burlington Report #11

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Report for Day #11 of On-site VT Public Record Law Review of Burlington Anti-Gun Proposals
Burlington City Hall, 12/23 1:00PM – 4:30PM
On Monday, December 13, Chris Bradley and Evan Hughes were in Burlington City Hall for a document review session for the Vermont Public Records Review Law request the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs (VFSC) submitted to the city on September 19.
On December 16 the VFSC filed an "appeal" letter challenging the city on numerous deficiencies of the city in complying with the public records request. Below and above is the written response of Burlington Miro Weinberger to the federation's challenge.
In the letter the mayor acknowledges that of the 117 documents it had previously withheld from public view, 25 would be released in a file among other documents made available in a computer file. A cross-reference of a log of withheld documents, with 25 marked for disclosure and the computer file revealed that only 3 of the listed 25 had been released.
When the city IT personnel were advised of the missing 22 document, the city administrator and city attorney were notified and the staff provided hard copies of the documents. The documents were provided at closing time and there was insufficient time to again cross-reference the materials with the log. A review reveals that one document is still missing and has again been requested.
The city attorney and city administrator has previously told us that there were 900 documents that had been set aside for review and the review would be completed by the end of the year.
Chris Bradley & Evan Hughes
Office of Mayor Miro Weinberger
December 23,2013
Evan Hughes, VFSC Vice-President
16 Millstone Blvd.
Barre, VT 05641
RE: Appeal of Public Records Request dated December 16, 2013
Dear Mr. Hughes,
This letter is in response to your email of December 16, 2013, concerning an appeal of records issues under 1 V.S.A.§31B(c).
I begin by restating the City's commitment to transparency and to meeting the requirements of Vermont's public records law. To that end, the Administration has been working steadily to respond to your request. As you know. the initial search terms led to
many thousands of documents, and we have now reviewed over 9,000 of those. Of those, we have produced to you over 2,500 documents and identified 117 as exempt. We are reviewing and logging a further batch of exempt documents and are working to have a complete log of those exempt documents to you by the end of the calendar year.
The first seven paragraphs of your letter do not request or appeal records under the Vermont Public Records Act, so do not require a response. I do want to emphasize that, as you have been told, the City has taken your request for public records seriously and has been working diligently to respond to it. All City officers, employees, and Council members have been asked to provide all communications or other materials that are responsive to your request, and it is my understanding that they have done so.
As to paragraphs B,9, and 10, you request that I revisit and reverse the City's exemption of documents under 317(c)(17). I have reviewed your request and the documents we have withheld under that exemption. As you undoubtedly are aware, this exemption is designed to "allow decision makers access to the fuller spectrum of competing ideas that the promise of candor encourages and the specter of public scrutiny chills before voting or otherwise choosing a particular course." Montpelier Firefighters Ass'n v. City of Montpelier, No. 85-2-13 Wncv (Vermont Superior Court, Washington Unit, March 4,2013). Vermont courts have recognized the importance of municipal officials' having an opportunity for private exchange and analysis prior to making a decision. See, e.g., Bethel v. Bennington School District, Inc., No. 403-10-07 Bncv (Bennington Superior Court July 24,2008). These court decisions support my personal belief that the most effective decision-making for the public
good comes through thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis and debate.
However, after careful re-examination, I have found that the City's exemption of documents under (c)(17) may have been applied too broadly with respect to certain documents, and I have decided to disclose a number of records previously claimed as exempt and as outlined in the attached log. This log cross-references the previous five exemption logs that have been provided to you. These documents are included in the records being provided to you today. For the remaining documents claimed under this exemption, the City will continue to exert the exemption for the reasons described above.
Your next request in paragraph 12 is for me to reconsider the attorney-client privilege and you specifically reference email correspondence with Eric Miller. It appears to me that the exempt log does incorrectly reference (c)(3) for some of these communications when they should just have cited (c)(17). These references are corrected on the attached complete log.
As to paragraph 13, the City does not currently maintain a record reflecting all personnel hours spent in responding to your requests to date by date, hours, and person. We are working to pull together the information on Attorney Bergman's time that was previously promised.
As to paragraph 14, the City is diligently attempting to try to complete its review and production of the exemption log and most of the responsive documents (although perhaps not the updated records requested more recently) by the end of the calendar year. To that end, we have hired outside personnel to assist. If, for some reason, we cannot meet that timeline, we will let you know but believe we are on track to do so at this point.
Miro Weinberger, Mayor
Chris Bradley - Secretary
Vermont State Rifle And Pistol Association (VSRPA)