Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Ogden City Line-Item Budget Released to Public - Updated

Caldwell Administration relents: Document finally obtained after two-month delay and $169 fee

The following news release appeared yesterday on the Ogden Ethics Blog, which we'll cross-post here as a follow-up to Dan Schroeder's earlier reports on his recent Ogden Line-item Budget/Water Utility GRAMA requests:
Ogden City Line-Item Budget Released to Public

In an effort to promote greater transparency in Ogden City’s finances, the Ogden Ethics Project has obtained and posted a copy of the city’s detailed line-item budget. Interested citizens can now download a copy of this document from the OEC website's Resources and Document Access page.

As far as we can determine, no such document has ever before been released to the public. According to Assistant City Attorney Mara Brown, the line-item budget was not widely disseminated even within the city administration, and was not shared with the city council or its staff.

Ogden’s official budget document is posted on the city’s web site but is far less detailed. To give just one example, whereas the official budget breaks down the city’s golf-course-related expenditures into just ten major categories, the line-item budget breaks these down further into more than 100 sub-categories, with staffing, supplies, utilities, and other expenses assigned to either El Monte or Mt. Ogden Golf Course and further broken down between the grounds and pro shops.

For reasons that remain unclear, the city administration was reluctant to release the line-item budget document. A formal request for it, filed pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, was denied on January 9. The city then rejected repeated attempts to discuss or negotiate the denial. Finally, during a formal appeal hearing before the city’s Records Review Board, the administration agreed to release a copy of the document—but only in printed form, at a total cost of $169 (25 cents per page). The administration refused to provide an electronic copy of the document because, in Brown’s words, “we are able to track it as a record if it’s in print format” and because an electronic copy “can be manipulated.”

In total, obtaining a copy of the line-item budget required about a dozen hours of personal time spent over a period of two months. The printed pages have, of course, now been scanned and processed with optical character recognition software to facilitate searching.
The present version of the line-item budget includes actual revenue and expense information from fiscal years 2011 and 2012, plus budget numbers for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Soon the Ogden City Council will begin its consideration of the FY 2014 budget. We hope that the council will demand to see line-item detail during that process, and that the administration will provide that detail promptly upon request.
We believe that everyone will agree that it's quite encouraging to learn that the Ogden City Mayoral Administration has now finally backed off on what seemed to be knee-jerk opposition to these very basic public document requests; and we'll of course continue to follow this story as it continues to develop.

"Bottom line," of course, we'll be looking forward to some ultimate reconciliation between those revenues which are being generated by Ogden City's 2012 "upside down" water rates revisions, as compared to the dollars which are actually being applied, or NOT being applied (as the case may be), to legitimate Ogden City water utility "overhead," (which would include but not be limited to underlying and currently existing water utility bond payments), of course.

Update 4/4/13 11:43 a.m.:  We've now learned this morning that the Salt Lake Tribune's Cathy McKitrick is all over this story too:
Spot-on comment from Councilwoman Wicks: "Councilwoman Amy Wicks said that she and other Council members do not receive the budget digitally, adding that citizens shouldn’t have to file a GRAMA request and pay a lot of money to get those documents." 

Sadly however, the (Ogden) Standard-Examiner continues to turn an entirely blind eye to this important government transparency story, which, weirdly enough, continues to unfold inexplicably un-noticed right under its very own journalistic nose, so to speak.

Go figure.


Bob Becker said...

The SLTrib is reporting thatOgden capitulated at last in this latest Ogden public records fight. Long news story up on its website. So far as I can tell, the SE has not reported the story yet.

Which ignores the bigger question of why the SE was not leading in the battle to force Mayor Mike's administration to actually make public public records. It should have been at the forefront on this.

rudizink said...

Yep, Bob, I just posted my own update, SLTrib link and editorial critique regarding the Standard's journalistic inattention just moments ago myself.

Ogden Cynic said...

It's obvious, Rudi, that the Standard has decided to play along with the Mayoral administration's secretive posture, and the SE thus won't do anything to reveal that substantial amounts of Ogden City water utility revenues are being misapplied to other general Ogden City projects and expenses.

Bob Becker said...

Playing catch-up with the Trib on an Ogden story. Can't help wondering if this would have happened if the SE focused more on "news " than "content" --- if it had a "newsroom" like god intended instead if a c

Bob Becker said...

Over on the Trib comments board for this story, Dan details how hard the Caldwell administration fought to keep these records from being released. I' d say an apology, and a refund, are in order. Maybe the Ogden City Council could/should step up on this if the Mayor won't?

rudizink said...

For purposes of this WCF discusion, Bob, I'll take the liberty of incorporating Dan's Trib comment on this subject:

"Dan S. • 3 hours ago
The city administration did NOT want to release this document. First they pretended that no such document exists--that the data is kept only in a proprietary database, off-limits to the public. When I then filed a formal GRAMA request for the document, that request was denied on similar grounds and the city refused to discuss the denial, even when Iattempted to bring in the Utah GRAMA Ombudsman. So I had to file a formal appeal just to get them to talk. At the appeal hearing, Assistant City Attorney Mara Brown finally admitted that a printout of the line item budget exists, but said it was not given to the council or otherwise disseminated within the city. Now it seems that this too was untrue--that the council staff, at least, do routinely receive copies of the line-item budget. Well, good. But why all the delays and deception? It would be a very simple matter for the city to just generate a pdf of the line-item budget and email it to council members and post it on the city's web site. But instead it takes a fanatic like me to get hold of acopy, after tremendous effort and significant expense."

Yes, considering the fact that Ogden City had the document which they ultimately produce already in limited circulation, the City should waive and refund their $169 fee, which was originally pegged at the cost of compiling this already-prepared record.

Dan S. said...

I was just interviewed about this story by Fox 13 News. We held the interview in the lobby of the Municipal Building, while Ms. Brown stood off to the side listening bit declined to comment herself. As of when I left, the TV guy hadn't found anyone willing to comment on behalf of the city.

Bob Becker said...

Hooe he reports the City's refusal to comment and to explain what part of "public record" the Mayor or his flacks... pardon me, advisors...didn't understand.

rudizink said...

Dan, do you anticipate that this afternoon's interview will be aired later today on Fox 13 News? If so, I'm sure that many of our WCF readers would love to tune in.

Bob Becker said...

Still can't find anything on the SE website. I used to know the managing editor of Baton Rouge's morning paper, the Morning Advocate. Here's what happened in the newsroom when he learned the Advocate had been beaten on a good Baton Rouge story by an out of town paper:

What's happening in the Content Center I wonder?

Dan S. said...

I can assure everyone that I've made every attempt to keep the S-E informed about this matter, sending exactly the same information to both newspapers at the same time.

As for who in the administration was calling the shots, the answer is obvious: Mark Johnson. Still, Caldwell is ultimately responsible.

Dan S. said...

I didn't ask when it might be broadcast, but I should think this evening or tonight. Of course, other late-breaking news could always bump it.

Bob Becker said...

If that's so, perhaps we might suggest, ever so gently, to Mayor Mike that he might be well advised to spend a little less time riding his bike and a little more time riding herd on Mr. Johnson. Can't help recalling, after all, that Mr. Johnson is a holdover from the notorious Godfrey administration, which at one point when the Council simply asked who the Administration was selling some public land to, was told it [the Council] had no right to even ask such a question of Hizzonah, the Mayor.

blackrulon said...

Bob you are forgetting that the mayor has other things on his mind. He still has not publicly announced if he is accepting or rejecting the post election campaign checks from Gadi Leesham.

Bob Becker said...

Still nothing in the SE that I can find. Odd. Most city beat reporters and editors I've know start getting very curious when a city hall tries this hard to keep something from the public. Those with a nose for news, that is.

Dan S. said...

Well, apparently it was broadcast sometime yesterday (Friday), but won't be posted on their web site because "only reporter stories go online".

rudizink said...


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