Friday, September 19, 2008

FOIA Friday - September 19, 2008

One of the biggest frustrations in trying to get public records is when a government entity doesn't want to give you the information. Despite the fact that the information is there, it might not already be in a form that makes it easy to hand out.

Each state has its own laws and in Ohio, governments are not required to create a record in order to provide it to you. While this makes sense on the one hand, it can become a way for entities to hide information they don't want you to know.

When I was the Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, the city of Toledo, through which our budget was processed, periodically issued a report that listed how many employees were in each department (by classification) and how many of those budgeted positions were vacant. Figuring that if the report existed in the past, it should be able to be produced in the present, I asked for the information.

Apparently, they no longer do the report on a regular basis, hence, the answer I got from the city was that no such report exists. Could it easily be produced? Probably, considering that they haven't changed the computer systems since I was in office.

But, if the city doesn't want people to know this information, they can just say that they have no such report, and the logic of 'you used to have it so please produce it' just doesn't resonate with them.

As a citizen, I should be able to know, at any given point in time, how many employees the city has on the payroll, and how that number differs from what was budgeted. The mayor, facing budget deficits, has said that he believes there are positions in each department that are not necessary and could be eliminated in order to reduce those deficits.

Um...if the positions are not necessary, why are they there in the first place????

But if you're getting ready to lay off people, wouldn't it be logical to think that you already know how many of the budgeted positions are not filled? Either you do, and you just don't want to share that information with the public, or you don't, which makes you a less-than-competent mayor.

He who controls the information controls the world...


Jill said...

Ha! Love this Maggie - thank you.

When I was working at the Yale Development Office, I was about 24 or 25 and it was the mid 1980s, a woman who was the deputy director of division I was in (and who later went to a post with Save the Children) was in a meeting with me and I had to take notes. I wasn't part of the group meeting but was brought in for that notetaking task. I didn't like it much because I felt it was kind of beneath me!

But she knew better and they were kind of grooming me for things and I will never forget this as long as I live but she said to me exactly what you wrote, with one change:

"SHE who controls the information controls the world..."


Maggie Thurber said...


I love the She ... but our mayor is a 'he' so...

Here's another good point: when people have the information, they make good decisions. If you want to ensure a decision, only provide the information that agrees with your position.

That happens a lot in politics. I was never afraid of giving both sides because I was pretty confident people would agree with most (if not all) my decisions. And if they didn't? Well, my job was to represent them - not dictate to them. I think some of our elected officials forget that fact...

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