Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One GRAMA Dispute Settled, Another Tabled

Caldwell administration’s obstructionism continues

By Dan Schroeder

During the previously scheduled hearing of the Ogden Records Review Board yesterday afternoon, assistant city attorney Mara Brown agreed to provide me with a copy of the city’s line-item budget, though only in hard-copy format and at a cost of 25 cents per page (approximately $168 total).

In a second hearing, the Board postponed a decision on whether to grant access to water use data and other utility customer information, which the city administration has refused to provide.  The Board will reconvene at 1:00 pm next Tuesday, February 26, to deliberate and reach a decision in that matter.

The city’s position regarding the line-item budget continues to baffle me, but in the interest of resolving that dispute I elected to accept the settlement offer. During the hearing Ms. Brown stated that even though it might be easier for the city to provide the 672-page document in electronic form, the administration is unwilling to do so. The reasons she gave for this position made so little sense that I hesitate to try to repeat them until I’ve listened to a recording of her words.

Of course, a hard copy of the line-item budget will be much harder to redistribute. Still, I intend to scan it and post a copy online. It should really be posted on the city’s own web site, right next to the official, much less detailed, budget document.

During the discussion of the line-item budget, Ms. Brown and Comptroller Laurie Johnson portrayed this document as something that few eyes have ever seen. They stated that even the city council staff are not provided with a copy of it, although the administration staff keep a copy at hand, for their personal reference, during the council’s budget meetings. It seems likely, therefore, that the unveiling of the line-item budget will be educational not just to the public but also to the city council itself. I expect to have it within a couple of weeks.

Ms. Brown offered no concessions, however, on the utility customer data. First she attempted to mischaracterize my request, claiming that I was asking not for the data itself but for a specific compiled report made from it, which does not exist. With considerable effort, I think I managed to clarify my request and convince the Board that the data itself is a genuine public record. But they seemed hesitant to require the city to extract the data from the database, believing either that GRAMA doesn’t require this (which is false) or that the extraction process would be too difficult (which is also false, as well as irrelevant).

I’ll provide an update after the Board reconvenes next Tuesday.


Bob Becker said...

Again, the question arises re: the detailed line item budget which few get to see apparently, and with which the Council is not provided: what is it in the detailed budget the administration does not want widely known? Or does not want the Council to have ready access to? If there is some other compelling reason for keeping the document secret, the Administration has yet to explain it.

And of course I'm wondering as well why the SE has not been covering this? Certainly supporting access to public records us very much in the paper 's interests, que no?

blackrulon said...

The S-E believes in the motto "What you don't know will not hurt you". After all of these years living in Ogden you  still seem to believe that the local paper has any real interest in being curious.

Dan S. said...

Incidentally, there happens to be a recent favorable decision of the Utah State Records Committee that is pertinent to the issue of whether storing records in an electronic database, from which they are difficult to extract, can be a valid reason to deny a request for public access to the records. Here's a link to the committee's decision:

Smaatguy said...

Unreal the nerve that they are determined to keep how they spend OUR money! Disturbing that not many if at all anyone has even seen the breakdow. The right thimg to do is say we'll get that for you but its gonna take a little time.... something is being hid thats for damn sure.

rudizink said...

 Gotta hand it to you, Dan.  You're definitely doing your homework!

Marcy Taylor said...

$168.00??  Are you kidding me?  So in order for a citizen to have access to how money is being spen in their city they would have to come up with over one hundred dollars?  This seems fundamentally wrong/flawed, as I would be unable to come up with that amount of money for photocopies.  There is much more for me to digest in this article, but right now I'm having a hard time with the dollar amount they are placing on a citizen to ensure an elected official is doing their job ... 

Dan S. said...

I agree that it's ridiculous to charge any fee at all for the line-item budget, which should really be posted for all to see on the city's web site. The official budget is already there, showing revenue and expenses in broader categories without all the detail. At the other extreme, the state has a web site,, where you can look up every financial transaction within a few months after it occurs. (The data for Ogden go back only to the middle of 2010.) But that web site doesn't show the budgeted amounts--only the actuals.

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