Monday, January 27, 2014

Federation Response to Burlington over VT Public Records Review Request

Proudly Serving Vermont Since 1875
16 Millstone Blvd, Barre, VT 05641
To:       Bob Rusten, Chief Administrative Officer of Burlington
Date:   January 27, 2014
Re:       VFSC Freedom of Information Request
Dear Mr. Rusten,
This letter responds to your letter dated January 17, 2014 in which you assert:  "A list of the search terms the City intended to use was provided to you, and you were asked to provide feedback on that list.  You did not at that time request that we include any additional search terms. Therefore we believe that we have complied with your request to date."
The VFSC first submitted its request for public records to the City on September 18, 2013, which clearly sought very broad categories of records relating to potential regulation or prohibition of "firearms or other weapons."
The City did not begin to provide VFSC with any records of any sort until October 22nd, one day after the City Council's October 21st vote on firearms matters.
When VFSC first went on-site to begin the review of records on October 22, a meeting was held in Scott Schrader's Office, and in that meeting was Chris Bradley and Evan Hughes of the VFSC, in addition to Eugene Bergman, Scott Schrader and yourself representing the City.  Mr. Bradley took notes of that meeting, and those notes indicate that the City related that there were fourteen (14) "search terms."  The City did not provide a list of what those terms were, and in discussion with Mr. Schrader on January 17th about this issue, he recalled the reference to 14 "search terms" as well.
Between October 22 and November 27, the City sent VFSC six (6) letters reporting various exemptions & progress, dated 10/22, 11/1, 11/6, 11/8, 11/15 and 11/26 (with an additional two letters having been sent by the City to the VFSC between September 18 and October 22) with NONE of those eight (8) letters listing ANY of the search terms used.
On November 27, approximately two months AFTER the VFSC's September 18 records request, you send a letter to VFSC on behalf of the City, with an opening paragraph describing the letter as an "update."
On the second page of that November 27 "update," the third of seven paragraphs mentioned certain specific terms.  Nothing highlighted that the City had confined its search to those terms, nor did the City ever seek confirmation from VFSC that those limited terms were acceptable to VFSC or would be likely to uncover all records of interest to VFSC.
The terms mentioned on the second page of the November 27 "update" is distinctly shorter than the fourteen (14) referenced to VFSC on October 22 when the City first began to provide records.
In distinct contrast, the City's own internal memorandum of Oct 10, 2013, at 5:54 PM from Scott Schrader to "Department Heads, City Attorney's Office Personnel, William Ellis, Esq., Mayor and City Council" states, at paragraph 9:  "If you have doubt as to whether a record, message or document pertains to this request, you must err on the side of caution and provide my office with the record."
The VFSC does not accept the City's claim that a search for plural terms, omitting singular terms, would be expected to identify all records of interest to VFSC.
The VFSC does not accept the City's suggestion that the time and manner of the City's oblique, indirect, and untimely November 27 mention of certain terms even vaguely resembles sincere or adequate compliance with the requirement at Title 1, Section 318(d) that "a public agency shall consult with the person making the request in order to clarify the request or to obtain additional information that will assist the public agency in responding to the request and, when authorized by this subchapter, in facilitating production of the requested record for inspection or copying."
The VFSC therefore thanks the City for recognizing the significant flaws that were inherent in its initial searches, and requests that the City continue on its new course to provide all records which are responsive to our request.
Evan Hughes
Vice President - Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs
Miro Weinberger, Mayor, City of Burlington
Burlington City Council
Eileen Blackwood, City Attorney
Eugene Bergman, Assistant City Attorney