Today the Federation was allowed the first opportunity to review the first access to what the city has thus far made available in response to our Freedom of Information Act request of September 18th.
Today we were given a letter from the City of Burlington concerning some correspondence that the City is exempting for various reasons. The federation questions the Interdepartmental Deliberations exemptions, and also have concerns about the Confidential Attorney/Client exemptions,
but we are considering this statement.
Chris Bradley and Evan Hughes arrived at approximately 9 A.M. We met with Eugene Bergman (Assistant City Attorney) and Scott Schrader (Assistant Chief Administrative Officer). We later met Mr. Rusten, Chief Administrative Officer, later in the day.
Upon arrival, we given a letter that is an attachment to this E-mail
Everything was cordial and polite across the day, and we learned from them just how much of an awakening our FOI request has been to them: It might well be that they are completely ill prepared to respond, and they know it.
A discussion ensued about emails. For emails that were sent or received through city accounts (emails ending with @burlingtonvt.gov), then these are all centrally stored (they use Microsoft Exchange) which means they can pretty easily search these emails in numerous ways including date range, by name, and keywords (I believe one of our letters to them suggested keywords and I seem to recall they mentioned there being 14 such keywords). They even suggested being given these emails electronically, where we could search and filter ourselves.
While they can internally easily find all of these, the problem is then that some person has to sit down and physically read through each one to figure out if it is sensitive in some way, such that some portions may need to be redacted, or the whole things withheld for a specific reason. They would of course have to identify what they hold back (as they have done with today’s letter), or otherwise redact. I assume though that since they cannot easily redact electronically without physical deletion – they will probably print these emails and then manually redact.
For the period of time we are interested in (2012/01/01 forward), they suggested they have about 18,000 emails to go through, but at this point we are unsure if the number they quoted was all the emails they had in total, or whether this number was the subset which had been selected by their search.
This approach will only work for city accounts however which would be the Mayor and all of the city staff, but only three of the councilors use city accounts (Hartnett, Brennan and fortunately for us – Siegal). The remaining Councilors all use private accounts, and the light bulb has definitely gone on with the City that it is going to be hugely problematic for them to handle these. How does the City guarantee a search of records that did not go through their servers?Imagine a duly elected official being required to turn over all their emails – and we are all interested we are sure with Mr. Blais. In all honesty, it is entirely possible that some councilors may have deleted emails, such that they cannot report them, but another councilor can report it because they didn’t delete…
Their delay comes from the fact that someone like Asst City Attorney Bergman has to go through each individual email to make a determination of whether or not an email needs to be withheld or redacted. If so, they cannot easily give that to us in an electronic format, so they may well have to print out those that need to be redacted and do so manually, or in the case of being completely withheld they need to identify it and tell us that they are being withheld and why. For some emails, they suggested either giving us an electronic copy, or giving us access to a PC where we can examine.
What all this means is that Mr. Bergman and Mr. Schrader spend some amount of time working around the idea that it will take them an inordinate amount of time to do all this, so how about we set up a schedule for each Wednesday for the next however many weeks?
The material that we were given for today was four things: A binder of press releases and articles (all worthless), a folder relating to the city council meetings (agendas, minutes and documents relating to city council meetings – little of interest), a folder relating to Charter Change Committee (this got a lot of scrutiny), and a small pile of minutes of Public Safety Committee minutes.
It is quite possible that what was given to us did not take much if any time to assemble. We also noted several issues with what we were given – I.e. – minutes that were supposed to be included were not; so we requested them and most (but not all) were produced after a phone call or two. More follow up further on the missing minutes.
We finished reviewing the materials available to us at approximately 2:30 P.M.
A review of the Charter Committee was revealing as to just how much they researched firearms law. Heller vs DC; MacDonald vs Illinois, articles/printouts about how gun control is handled in other states such as CT and others, printouts of VSA 24 2291 and 2295…
We flagged a number of documents that we wanted to study in more depth, and paid some minor amount of money for the copies – which we have and will be studying in more detail.
Emails will be most telling in our opinion, and we will start seeing them next week in some fashion and search and filter ourselves.