Sunday, August 7, 2016

Adding To Roch's Pile: Part 2

On Wednesday I posted Adding To Roch's Pile: Part 1in which I told you of Roch Smith Jr's story, Greensboro’s new secrecy: Sinister and hostile, "a damming account of the activities of the public relations department of the City of Greensboro, Greensboro City Council, Greensboro Police Department, and high ranking City staff. It was indeed a scathing account in which Mr Smith pointed out a number of lies and deliberate attempts to mislead the public." and I promised to document many more such instances in which the City of Greensboro has openly and deliberately hidden public information from the public.

In Mr Smith's account her wrote:

"Attempting to keep secret a legal bill the mayor asked the city to pay for her; passing public records policy unannounced and without public comment; telling a citizen a map already on the city’s website was too secret for her to have; and an assertion that records hosted in the cloud are not public are just a few of the many examples that Greensboro’s city government has grown secretive and hostile to public transparency under the current mayor Nancy Vaughan and city council."

Today I'm going to tell you of my own experiences of trying to get public information on the very incident that led up to Mr Smith's alleging that the City of Greensboro attempted to keep secret legal bills that the City was paying on her behalf.

Some of you might remember last year's Eric Robert v City of Greensboro lawsuit in which attorneys for Mr Robert attempted to get Mayor Vaughan to testify in court. I had hoped to get to the bottom of that story and documented my entire effort to get records from the City of Greensboro from beginning to end.

On Wednesday, December 30, 2015 I submitted Greensboro Public Information Request #5339 asking for the following information:
"I would like copies of all the monies the City of Greensboro received or spent on the South Elm Street redevelopment project as mentioned in the following News & Record article:

All receipts
All receipts payable
All receipts due

And as you are already gathering this same said information I foresee no problem with your being able to produce said receipts and billing info on or before 10:00 AM Monday morning.

Thanks -Billy Jones"
 Of course, things didn't go as I planned.

Mr Robert dropped his trial on Feburary 2 so using the excuse that the City could not send me what they deemed to be evidence doesn't continue to hold up. But as I pointed out in my Tuesday, February 16, 2016 post, Union Still Out Of Square, "The following is not a receipt."

From my post:

"And yet that is what was provided to me by the City of Greensboro in response to public information request #5359 when I asked for  All receipts, All receipts payable and All receipts due for the South Elm Street redevelopment project.

And when I e-mailed Katherine Carter, City Attorney Tom Carruthers and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan to ask them to reopen my public information request they all ignored my e-mail, failed to reply for the last 7 days and never reopened my request.
So late last night I submitted the following public information request:
"Please send me All receipts, All receipts payable and All receipts due for the South Elm Street redevelopment project.
Thank you -Billy Jones"
Below is a screen shot of the automatically generated response I got from the City of Greensboro showing I did send a request.
This is now the 3rd time I have asked the City of Greensboro to fulfill the same public information request. What are they hiding."
On Friday, March 4, 2016 I posted, Union Out Of Square And Out Of Plum, in which I posted the following e-mail sent to me by the City of Greensboro:

Now please understand, this is the same information the City was supposed to have already gotten together for Robert v. City of Greensboro. They should have already had it.

Secondly, there has been no mention  of holding this information because of the trial thus far.

And thirdly, thus far, there has been no mention of any fees for gathering this information.

Finally, I have yet to hear from the City Attorney Thomas Carruthers or anyone in his office concerning this matter. Keep these things in mind.

The following was my reply to Ms Carter:

"Ms Carter,
It is not my place to tell you how to do your job, nor do I wish to seem pushy or rude but if I were you I would impress upon City Staff, Supervisors, City Council and Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan the following information lest you be blamed for what could happen because of how this public information has been handled thus far. After all, they are notorious and have a long and storied history of throwing people under the bus.

I will explain.

In October 2015 Attorneys for Mr Eric Robert requested this same said information be provided for a lawsuit in which the City of Greensboro was Plaintiff. The City of Greensboro refused to provide this information to the court.

Because this information is public information under State and Federal Statutes I decided to open an investigation on behalf of, an independent, not for profit media outlet and government watchdog located here in Greensboro, North Carolina.

I first requested this information on December 30, 2015 as PIRT # 5359, titled, Union Out Of Square and documented my efforts to the public at the following web link on Thursday, January 28, 2016:  Should you click on the link you will note that others besides myself were also noted as having asked for information concerning the same subject.

I still have the City of Greensboro confirmation e-mail automatically generated when I submitted PIRT # 5359.

On Monday, February 8, 2016 you replied to PIRT # 5359 with the wrong information. I immediately replied to your e-mail and asked that you reopen PIRT #5359 and documented doing so here: You failed to reopen my PIRT as requested and ignored my e-mail altogether.

 On Tuesday, February 9, 2016 I e-mailed you, Ms Carter, Greensboro City Attorney Thomas Carruthers and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan documenting my e-mail publicly here:

All the while I patiently waited, and waited and waited, all the while, documenting and building a case against the City of Greensboro for deliberate and willful obstruction of public records requests.

Now Ms Carter, I realize that you are in-fact a low level employee of the City of Greensboro, doing what you are told to do, trying to keep your job, but please bear in mind that at some point, I'm not sure just when, Judges often look at just doing your job as aiding and abetting no matter what Tom Carruthers might tell you to the contrary. And please, I'm only telling you this for your own good and to document to the public that up until this point you have been stuck in the middle.

Then on Monday, February, 15, 2016 I submitted PIRT # 5489 Union Still Out Of Square. Using the autopost feature at I wrote just about the same time as I submitted the PIRT and set it to automatically post at 5:00 AM, Tuesday, February 16, 2016.

If you will compare PIRT 5489 to PIRT 5359 you will note that both public information requests are in-fact asking for the exact same information.

On Saturday, February 27, 2016 I made note of the fact that no less than 4 of my readers had forwarded me your e-mails indicating that they too had requested the same information that I am requesting:

I still have in my possession every e-mail and every document and am just itching to give them to investigators from the SBI, FBI, a State or Federal grand jury or perhaps even the persons who will run against our Mayor and current City Council members come the next election.

So now, On March 4, 2016, going on 5 months after attorneys for Mr Robert first asked for this information and 3 months after I first asked for this information I get the following from the City of Greensboro-- a message I should have gotten 3 months ago if this is in-fact a problem:

"The request for all receipts payable and due for the South Elm Street Redevelopment Project requires the extensive use of information technology resources and extensive clerical assistance by personnel of the City of Greensboro.
Therefore, this request is going to require a substantial amount of time to process.
If there is anything you can do to narrow the scope of your request, it would be greatly appreciated."

Do you, Ms Carter, honestly believe, that considering the amount of time that has passed since October 2015 or even since December, 30, 2015 that anyone in their right mind will believe the City of Greensboro has in any way, shape or form even attempted to comply with the following North Carolina State Statute?

"§ 132-6.  Inspection and examination of records.
(a)        Every custodian of public records shall permit any record in the custodian's custody to be inspected and examined at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision by any person, and shall, as promptly as possible, furnish copies thereof upon payment of any fees as may be prescribed by law."

No? I didn't think so.

The City of Greensboro has already had no less than 5 months to get these records together-- 3 months since I first requested them, and now it very much looks as if you haven't even started. It looks as if the City of Greensboro is deliberately trying to hide something, perhaps hoping that I'll forget or just give up and go away.

Well I won't give up. Nor will I modify my request? It will take as long as it takes but the delays thus far do not fair well for the City of Greensboro in the eyes of the public. Nor should they. If City staff isn't hiding something then we are looking at some of the most inept employees a city could possibly hire. Imagine private sector employees putting something off for months and then using the excuse, well it's going to take a lot of time.

Heads would roll and rightfully so.

As a matter of fact I encourage my readers no matter where you might live to use the City of Greensboro's PIRT request system and ask for the following information then in a few days e-mail Ms Carter's reply to me at so I can keep a record of how many people are waiting for the same information. Ask for the following:

"All receipts, all receipts payable and all receipts due for the South Elm Street Redevelopment Project."

Here's the link:

Thank you Ms Carter, I hope you have a lovely week.


A few others did actually e-mail the City and ask for the same records I asked for but it was only a handful of people and on Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at least 2 of us got the following reply from the city attorney:
"Mr. Jones and Mr. Godwin:
I am writing to update you on the status of your PIRTs filed on February 15 and 16 respectively.  These are unusually large requests.
This information is maintained in our Lawson software system. There is no global search function for this type of inquiry.  It will take an estimated 1000 individual queries to open and print your desired items. Only Lawson certified employees can conduct these queries. 
I understand that you have not yet agreed to limit the scope of your request or alter the request to allow us to produce the necessary information in a more efficient method. I would like to propose a solution.  Attached is a Lawson spreadsheet in electronic format that itemizes in excess of 8 million dollars in expenditures by the City of Greensboro. This allows you to review the itemized expenditures by account.  Please note that the “217” funds comprise the BEDI, Section 108, and EPA funds used by the City for acquisition and remediation at the South Elm Street Redevelopment Area (SESRA).  Section “212” funds are CDBG funds, some of which were used for the SESRA. The second attached spreadsheet, which we produced to you February 8th, is a summary of the funds only expended at the SESRA. This spreadsheet also contains the limited DOT and Powell Bill funds used at the SESRA. 
If you identify a reasonable subset of individual receipts, we should be able to produce these in a timely fashion. 
Your request at present is unmanageable under current City procedure. City Staff estimates that it will take a minimum of 100 hours of staff time at $40.00 per hour to produce these individual receipts. The City as a matter of procedure does not ordinarily charge for staff time to respond to requests which require an excessive amount of public time and expense. However, we are permitted to do so under State Public Records law and because of the magnitude of your request and the amount of staff time necessary to complete this request, we will have to exercise that option in this instance. Therefore, if you chose to go forward with your original request, please forward to us payment of $4000.00 and we will bill against this amount. We will refund any remaining unused money or will send additional bills if necessary to cover the additional staff time. This staff intensive inquiry will take an estimated 90 days to complete. 
Mr. Jones, I also understand you remain concerned that we waited to respond to your December 30th PIRT (5359) until February 8th.  As you are aware, at the time of your inquiry the City was involved in litigation regarding the use of these funds.  The City is not required to produce public records which are trial preparation materials.  The plaintiffs in this litigation dismissed their claims on February 2nd.  Thereafter, we timely responded. 
One final item.  I am not receiving your emails, only other’s responses to your emails to the City. It would be helpful for you to email directly to my address as well.
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Thomas D. Carruthers
City Attorney
Office of the City Attorney
300 West Washington Street
PO Box 3136
Greensboro, NC 27402-2320
Phone:    336-373-2320
Fax:        336-373-2078

Please note that email sent to and from this address is subject
to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties."

I found it interesting that in 2016, Mr Carruthers indicated that the City of Greensboro has not yet installed the Lawson Search Feature made available in 2009. When I'm elected Mayor of Greensboro in 2017 I'll make sure our IT staff has such tools available to them to significantly reduce the time and cost of fulfilling public information requests.

I didn't have $4,000 to pay for the records I asked for so I used the records linked to in Mr Carruthers' e-mail above. From the records I got it appears the City of Greensboro has lost, stolen or otherwise misappropriated approximately half of the original $8 Million Dollars given to them by the Federal Government for the South Elm Street Redevelopment Project. But no one will discuss it with me and I can't really be sure.

I still haven't given up. Elect me to the office of Mayor of Greensboro next year and those records will be made public if I have to search for them myself.

Stay tuned for Adding To Roch's Pile: Part 3