This is something that should outrage liberals, conservatives, and everybody in-between. Why? Because we all can relate to the irritation of not getting what we paid for.
On May 12 I made a public records request to the City of Salem after being perplexed by how it was that the May 1 gun rally at Riverfront Park, where Proud Boys provided "insecurity," didn't need a permit even though for weeks prior a city web page said that reservations were needed for events in city parks as of May 1.
I wanted to know who authorized changes to that web page on or around April 30 that changed the date permits were required to May 31, which conveniently absolved the gun rally from needing the permit that they didn't have.
You can read my public records request in a blog post I wrote on May 29 after city officials raised its cost from $302 to $900 even though nothing had changed in the two weeks since I'd been given the $302 cost estimate, which I promptly paid. I was told that after paying the additional money, city staff will proceed with their research.
This came on the heels of city officials asking that I give them email information for whoever authorized and made the changes to the web page -- an absurd request that I ridiculed in "To get public records, city officials want me to know what I seek to learn."
Worst of all, on June 1 I got a message saying that my public records were ready. This was after I'd reluctantly paid the additional $597 on top of the $302 I'd already paid.
Forking out $900 for public records struck me as decidedly overpriced. But I figured that after paying that much, there was no way I wouldn't get everything that I'd asked for in my public records request.
Well, I was wrong.
Because it didn't take me long to realize that I'd only gotten one of the three items in my public records request. This is the message I sent to city officials after I'd examined each of the PDF files that had been delivered to me.
Here’s an update to the reply I sent you this morning in regards to this public records request.
Later today I was able to download and review each of the PDF files I got. As I suspected, precisely ZERO pertained to items (1) and (2) of my request, which were the most important items. Item (3) was viewed by me as a supplement to (1) and (2), and wasn’t my primary interest.
So as it stands, I’ve been charged $900, and without any notice of this, was only given records pertaining to the least important item of my public records request.
Regarding item (3), reservation requests submitted to the City of Salem from March 27, 2021 to April 30, 2021, here’s what I found.
— 121 pdf files were sent to me
— of the 121, 38 had submission dates outside of the range I requested
— of the 121, 7 were duplicates of a valid record
— so only 76 of the 121 were correct records
— 76 of 121 is 63%
Thus I was charged $900 for records relating to only one of the three items in my public records request, and of those records, only 63% were what I requested.
Obviously there is a problem here. I await your response. Hopefully you realize that the City of Salem needs to make things right for me. I haven’t gotten the records I requested, and of the records I did get, just 63% were in line with what I asked for.
And I want to reiterate that when I was presented with an additional invoice for $600 two weeks after the $300 I’d already paid, there was no indication that I wouldn’t be getting everything in my public records request.
That’s why I reluctantly paid the additional $600 — because I made the obvious assumption that each of the three items in my request would be attended to by city staff.
— Brian Hines
When I didn't get a response to my two complaining messages, yesterday I decided to email the Recorder's Office at the City of Salem, which oversees public records requests.
Pleasingly, Amy Johnson, the Deputy City Recorder, promptly replied to my email, saying that she would look into the response to my public records request and get back to me next week.
Hopefully I'll soon be in possession of items (1) and (2) relating to who authorized and made changes to the city reservations web page on or around March 27 and April 30, 2021.
I'm not the only one having difficulty getting public records related to the May 1 gun rally at Riverfront Park where Proud Boys threatened a journalist and other people with expulsion.
Here's a tweet today from Joe Douglass, a journalist who used to work for KATU News in Portland and now has a web site called Discrepancy Report.
This is how the Discrepancy Report post, "Salem charges nearly $500 for 2nd Amendment rally communications records," starts out.
The city of Salem, Oregon charged Discrepancy Report nearly $500 for a public records request seeking communications records between city employees and organizers of a controversial pro-Second Amendment rally held at Riverfront Park on May 1.
lt's interesting that city officials wanted Douglass to provide email addresses of the gun rally organizers, which he would have no way of knowing, and that city officials wanted me to provide email addresses of whoever authorized and made changes to the parks reservation web page, which I also had no way of knowing -- since my public records request was aimed at finding out who this was.
If staff at the City of Salem are trying not to look like they're stonewalling efforts to learn more about the city's response to the Proud Boys gun rally, they're doing a poor job at this.
Suggestion: live up to the City of Salem motto, "At Your Service," by doing better at responding to public records requests.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that a few days ago I was told that another public records request I submitted regarding communications between City Manager Powers, Public Works Director Fernandez, and Police Chief Womack about the May 1 gun rally has been granted a fee waiver. So that's good news. Haven't gotten those records yet, though.