Monday, January 13, 2014

Denise Turner Roth On Public Records Requests

Last Tuesday night, Roch Smith Jr addressed the Greensboro City Council on the sad state of public records requests in Greensboro.

Nothing stands out more than this admission from Greensboro City Manager, Denise Turner Roth on the PIRT (Public Records) system as operated by the City of Greensboro staff:

"It has also turned into a system which records frequent requesters who try to use our words or processes against us…"

As to " bullying and McCarthyism coming from some bloggers toward city staff." They bring it on themselves. An honest man sees a question as an opportunity to better make his point, a liar sees a question as a threat to his thinly veiled lies. Every PIRT (Public Information Request) should be seen as an opportunity to enhance communications with the public and yet here in Greensboro PIRTs are seen as threats by staff and City Council alike. There can only be one reason to view opportunities as threats and I think you, dear readers, know exactly what I mean.

I suggested almost a year ago and again in a meeting between local bloggers and City Staff including Denise Turner Roth, City Attorney S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan, the City Internet Technologies staff, Nancy Baracat Vaughan, Marikay Abuzuaiter, Tony Wilkins and editors and reporters from the News & Record, Yes Weekly and the Rhino that all this information be made available online for all the world to see.

The Internet Technologies staff said it was very much doable. Greensboro City Attourney S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan inferred that someone might try to dig up the City's water lines and poison the water supply. The moron is too dumb to know you could do the same thing from inside your house without digging any holes simply by feeding the poison back through the water lines under pressure. And no one would see you working. Even easier, climb a water tower and pour it in the top. Nobody guards the damned things.

Had the City Staff made the records public months ago the problem would long be solved. Instead, S. Mujeeb Shah-Khan dicked around with nonsense about terrorist threats and covering his own ass. Just like all the rest of them. You see, the records already exist on Internet servers they just remain password protected so that only a few can access them.

And as Mr Smith has pointed out time and time again, whatever happened to timely? Is over 6 months and still no records considered a timely response?

It has since been learned that the North Carolina Attorney General’s office is investigating the City of Greensboro for systemic violation of public record laws and has ordered the City to cease and desist:

"The result of the investigation is a cease and desist ordered generated by the attorney general’s office to the city of Greensboro giving them thirty days to provide affidavit of compliance. Failure to comply could result in prosecution."

Thus the real reason Denise Turner Roth went job hunting.

Yet to this day City staff continues to withhold dozens of embarrassing and potentially criminal pieces of public information.

And finally, this is nothing new. Greensboro has a very long history of corruption and suppression of public records as pointed out by retired News & Record Assistant Editor Lex Alexander: 

"In my experience, one and only one thing will get the bureaucracy to start coughing up records as they should: the credible threat of a lawsuit. And for that threat to be credible, you really do need to sue occasionally.

For most of my time at the N&R, the paper kept a high-dollar, white-shoe firm on retainer for stuff like this. We seldom had to go so far as to actually sue, but we did a few times, and it put the fear of God into people for a while (except for some sympathetic bureaucrats who actually sympathized with us against their superiors). But you have to be prepared and funded to do it several times a year, every year, because 1) it takes a while for the message to sink in, 2) staff turnover means some agencies have to re-learn the lesson, and 3) if they’re treating a large corporation with expensive legal representation this way, how badly are they treating average citizens?"

On this, myself and the rest of Greensboro's bloggers will not back down. Only through timely, honest and complete public records releases can government be held accountable and history has long shown the City of Greensboro to be corrupt. Either Nancy Baracat Vaughan gets it right or we take her down the very same way the local blogosphere destroyed her predicessor. On that you have my word.

And Miss Roth, what happened in Greensboro won't just stay in Greensboro. The Internet has a way of getting around. If I were you I'd start talking.