Thursday, March 06, 2008

Still waiting for public records on Erie Street Market

Yesterday, I talked with Tim Livingston, of NBC24, about the financial records for the Erie Street Market and a story they were working on. Both of us have been waiting for the November/December financial statements ... for a long time.

Last night Aaron Brilbeck covered the story, "No financial records for Erie St. Market," and he did a really nice job of demonstrating the lack of accountability within the city.

While I'm as frustrated as the NBC24 staff about the lack of response to the public records request, I'm also concerned about public statements made in early January that the Market made a profit in November/December after the city took it over.

In fact, that was the reason I made the public records request in the first place. I sent the following email to Brian Schwartz:

"Brian - there have been several statements lately (mayor and staff) that the ESM made a profit in November and December. I'd like copies of the financial statements for these two months, which you must have in order to know that there was a profit."

At that time, I was told to check back in a week...which I did, with this email:

"Hi Brian -

You said the financial statements for the Erie Street Market would be done by the end of this week and to check back with you on this. I did so earlier in the week, but haven't had a response."

His response?

"The financial statements for the Erie Street Market are not done yet."

I followed up again, as it was now January 31st and I got the following response from Mr. Schwartz on February 1st:

"Maybe a threat or two would help as well. Get a little angry. Andy Ferarra is who you should solicit the ESM records from. He had until today to get them done and, of course, took until today to get them done."

Now, this communication seems to indicate that the financial reports for November and December are done. However, they were not forthcoming, despite this clarification from Mr. Schwartz:

"Ferarra just went into a meeting with the mayor. I believe he was supposed to have that report for that meeting. If I can get a copy, I'll get it."


Rather than call Andy Ferarra, I spoke to the Commissioner of the department, Ferrara's boss, Todd Davies. He explained that they had finally gotten all the accounts set up and that the financial reports should be able to be generated within about two weeks.

On Feb. 29th, not having any response to my request, I again had a phone conversation with Mr. Davies. He told me that the financials were done but that my request had to go through the law department first. We had an interesting discussion that this law department review was because of who I was and who I worked for. He asked me to formalize the request to him by sending him an email - which I did:

"Todd - per our conversation today, I have copied the email exchanges between me and Brian S. regarding my request for public records - specifically, the November and December financial statements/reports for the Erie Street Market - since the City of Toledo assumed control of this entity from CitiFest.

As you will see in the emails, I was notified to contact you directly, which I did on Feb. 1 via phone. At that time, you informed me it would be about 2 weeks to provide the documents.

Please let me know when the information can be emailed to me (if available in electronic format) or when I can inspect the information in order to determine what, if any, copies I may like to have made."

But in another twist in this long story, my response came not from Mr. Davies, but from Katerina Bekyarska, who was filling in for Brian Schwartz.

"Maggie,

it has come to my knowledge today that you have been trying to obtain information on a couple of things. The first one from what I understand is the financial reports for the Erie Street Market for November and December. Actually, yesterday I inquired about that and was told that those will be ready some time next week."

My response to her:

"As I'd been instructed to follow up directly with Todd Davies on the ESM financials, I've been doing that and spoke to him today. He told me the information was ready but that the request had to be reviewed by the law department. And yes, that is for me - not for general requests for information. I'm sure there's nothing there that would be excluded from the public record, but if you'd also like to track this request, that's fine with me."


Additionally, I questioned why the commissioner of the department would tell me the reports are done, but that his subordinate would tell Ms. Bekyarska that it would still be another week. Her response:

"I do not know why Todd had said this to you. There may be a miscommunication. Andy Ferrara is working on them and does not have them completed yet."

(Perhaps no one really knows what's going on in the city? And these are the same people who are in charge of the entire budget?)

In still another twist in the complicated effort to get a simple report, I had a phone call this morning from Mr. Davies who informed me he's still working on getting those records for me. I can't help but think it's because the issue is again getting news coverage with NBC24's story last night.

So - in early January city administrators and the mayor make public statements that the ESM made a profit in November and December after the city took over the operations. However, two months later, the financial statements are still not done - so how in the world would they even know?

Funny - but lack of financial accountability was one of the reasons Mayor Carty Finkbeiner used for taking over this operation in the first place.

And if you were someone who was just curious about these public records, would you have gone through all of this rigmarole - or would you have given up on ever getting a response to your request? Perhaps that is the point...

I'll keep you posted on our continuing efforts to obtain these public records.

7 comments:

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Did you ever get the feeling that you were the lone shuttlecock in a very badly played game of badminton?

Maggie Thurber said...

yes...but my thoughts were for something a bit more agressive than badmiton! LOL!

jrs said...

I hope that you can lend this story some momentum, Maggie. This is a perfect example of why city gov should stay out of retail management.

Lost their liquor license...with 26events (needing it) in the works ? How did that happen and where is city council (besides Collins)on this ? Is there not anyone on that city council who could figure out, at the very least, how to use this to their politcal advantage(Mayoral race, anyone ?)and ultimately get y'all some answers ??

I am a firm believer in the idea that he who has the info has the power. That's why you're being stonewalled.

Robin said...

Wow... one would think that info would be available on the City's website by the 15th of the following month. Not still "in the works" more than three months after the fact.

Roo said...

Do you ever get tired of dancing?

IF the statement that the financials show a profit for ESM, then what is the big deal about releasing the document? It would seem that only those with something to hide would be so evasive.

I'll be lurking in the wings to see what happens. Wonder if they would have to refer MY request to the law department??? Hmmmmmmmm

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

I have come to the conclusion that the ESM is a small, misplaced splinter of the Bermuda Triangle.
- Money goes in, but it never comes out.
- Wild stories and legends are generated as to what really goes on there.
- The laws of nature (and mathematics) seem to hold no sway within this realm

Perhaps this can become a tourist attraction, and another piece of "Toledo Pride".

Frank said...

Holy smokes!
And they (city government) wonder why they get picked on so much! You would think you was requesting information on why we have gravity on earth.
One again this makes me distrust our local official even more with all the hoops someone has to jump through in order to get some information. And the fact they even told you that because of who you are, you had to make your requests via the Law department.
And I thought Hitler was dead!

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