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Public Records.

Tonight, the UO’s esteemed Public Records Officer Liz Denecke spoke at the ASUO Senate meeting about public records requests and how they relate to the Senate.

As some of you may remember, I submitted a public records request to the ASUO Senate for correspondence over the Senate listserv. That request was referred to Miss Denecke and, according to her testimony at tonight’s meeting, that was the appropriate avenue to take.

At the meeting, Denecke made it clear that the ASUO is an entity of the University, and all public records requests should be forwarded to her. She also expressed that the emails sent between senators discussing the business of the Senate or governance are a part of the public record.

It is with interest, now, that I take you to a recent request that was made for records on the ASUO Senate listserv. The request was not made by me — it was made by Oregon Commentator Editor Emeritus CJ Ciaramella. Below the jump is a series of emails between Ciaramella and Denecke. Read on if government transparency is important to you.

January 31, 2011

Dear Mrs. Denecke,

Pursuant to Oregon public records laws ORS 192.410 to 192.505, I write to request a digital copy of all e-mail correspondence sent to senate@uoregon.edu or asuosenate@lists.uoregon.edu from November 16, 2010 to present containing the keywords “Commentator” or “Lyzi.” In recent records requests, the ASUO Senate has repeatedly claimed it is not the custodian of its own e-mail listserv and directed requests to your office. If you do not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.

I agree to pay any reasonable copying and postage fees of not more than $25. If the cost would be greater than this amount, please notify me and provide a receipt indicating the charges for each document. I would prefer an electronic version of the documents, but they may also be sent by mail if the latter is not feasible for your office.

If you choose to deny my request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. If some of these records are disclosable and others are exempt, please provide the disclosable records and let me know the exemption(s) preventing disclosure of the rest.

Thank you for your time. Sincerely,

- C.J. Ciaramella

***

February 1, 2011

Dear Mr. Ciaramella:

The Office of Public Records received your request for a digital copy of all e-mail correspondence sent to senate@uoregon.edu or asuosenate@lists.uoregon.edu from November 16, 2010 to present containing the keywords “Commentator” or “Lyzi.” The university is uncertain whether it possesses the public records you have requested. However, the university will search for the records and make an appropriate response to your request as soon as practicable.

The university charges for the actual cost of making public records available. The charge includes, but is not limited to, staff costs for locating, gathering, summarizing, compiling, reviewing, tailoring or redacting the public records to respond to a request. The charge may also include the cost of time spent by an attorney in reviewing the public records, redacting material from the public records, or segregating the public records into exempt and nonexempt records.

Thank you for your inquiry.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Denecke
Office of Public Records
University of Oregon
541-346-6823
pubrec@uoregon.edu

***

February 4, 2011

Mr. Ciaramella:

The University charges for the actual cost of making public records available, including, but not limited to, staff costs for locating, gathering, summarizing, compiling, reviewing, tailoring or redacting the public records to respond to a request. The charge may also include the cost of time spent by an attorney in reviewing the public records, redacting material from the public records, or segregating the public records into exempt and nonexempt records. The cost of time for each employee is calculated by multiplying the employee’s hourly wage calculation (including benefits expenses) by the hours or portions thereof necessary to locate, gather, summarize, compile, tailor, review, redact, segregate, certify or attend the inspection of the public records requested.

The actual cost of responding to your request is $428.36. Please remit a check made payable to the University of Oregon in that amount to the Office of Public Records, 6207 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-6207.

Alternatively, we can discuss other methods for getting you the information you seek that might be less expensive. If this approach is of interest to you, please call my office to set up a time early next week to discuss your request. Thank you for your inquiry.

Liz Denecke

***

February 4, 2011

Mrs. Denecke,
I would very much like to discuss ways of reducing the cost. In the meantime, could you please provide me with an itemized receipt for the costs? The two e-mail accounts are on the UO servers and should be easily searchable by a sys admin.To be honest, I’ve put in FOIA requests to the federal government that were more intensive and time-consuming, and I was charged $0. Thank you,

- CJ Ciaramella

***

February 4, 2011

Mr. Ciaramella:

In my experience, one cannot compare costs across public records requests. Each is unique.

Information on how the university calculates its fees is provided below. In the case of this request, about half of the cost is attributable to producing the documents. The other half is for redaction, and that cost is estimated conservatively and will likely cost more than the estimate.

Additionally, most of these emails will be student records, subject to the protection of student privacy laws. That will require a great deal of redaction and you may end up with documents that do not tell you what you want to know. I don’t want you paying for something that won’t be useful to you, but without knowing more about what you are seeking, I cannot really advise you. There are alternatives that might or might not be of use to you. For example, records can be summarized. Requests can be tailored more narrowly. I am happy to discuss alternatives with you if that would be helpful.

Let me know how the office can be of further assistance to you.

Liz Denecke

At this point, CJ got on the phone with Ms. Denecke. I do not have a transcript of that phone call, but I do have an email he sent me in response:

I talked with the esteemed Mrs. Denecke today. Turns out any records I retrieve from the Senate Listserv would have all the names redacted because of student privacy protections afforded under FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act), which, according to Denecke, supersedes state public record law, and they would also redact anything not strictly related to public business (e.g. “the kids from OSPIRG sure do smell bad”). I don’t agree with the latter (since it’s still correspondence by a public body over a public channel), but there you go.

Also, I still believe the fees are exorbitant and prohibitive, but it would take an appeal to the A.G. to get it lowered. I dropped my request. So, in conclusion, the listserv for a public body that handles $12 million in student fees has de facto immunity from public records requests. There’s your happy news for the day. Cheers,

- CJ

I understand the lack of gravity insofar as the actual records he was requesting. This is to say, I don’t really care what the ASUO Senate has to say about me or the Commentator when chatting among themselves. I do care about the fact that the Senate (and the ASUO in general) already has so little accountability to students, and public records requests are (as we now know) not an effective method of holding the body accountable.