The story below written by Nick Deshais appeared in the Spokesman Review yesterday and dealt with a letter David Condon submitted to the City Council in answer to questions regarding the Cotton/Straub issue and the withholding of public records. The story left out some import facts but did provide a picture on how government always reacts to Public Records Requests so I thought it would be a good idea to provide two general rules on how to submit a Public Records Request without giving away any of my trade secrets.
Condon’s letter was at best comical and it makes me wonder which lawyer helped him prepare it, but I am primarily going to deal with the PRR issue at this point.
Here is one important quote from Deshais’s story regarding how government deals with PRRs:
Cotton’s refusal to lodge a formal complaint almost stopped any information from coming out of City Hall about the reasons for her transfer, Condon wrote in his answers.
While discussing the delay in the release of records, Condon said the city nearly didn’t make public the records that were released Nov. 24, which detailed and shed light on what happened at City Hall leading to Straub’s ouster.
The records “were not initially determined to be responsive” because the request used the word “complaint,” Condon wrote.
“Neither the Human Resources Department nor the Spokane Police Division had any record of ‘complaints’ by Ms. Cotton or against Mr. Straub,” Condon wrote. “To the best of our knowledge, no ‘complaint’ was ever filed by Ms. Cotton or against Mr. Straub.”
RULE NUMBER ONE
If you are going to submit a PRR (FOIA) to any government agency you must understand that that agency will use every legal means, and at times illegal means, available to prevent you from having access to the records when those records might reflect in ANY negative way towards the agency. The above quote from Deshais’s story is an example of just ONE method government utilizes, the good ole “Your request was very specific as to the records you wanted and we had/have no responsive records.”
This defense tactic creates a dilemma for the requestor in that a certain amount of specificity is required in any PRR but you have to be very careful that you are not specific to the point it provides for the limited search scope defense Condon falsely asserts in his letter. Deshais did in his August 18th PRR cover the all-inclusive PRR necessity but IMO went too far after that in his request by using the term “complaints” standing alone in items 2 and 3.
- Any and all records, documents or emails related to or discussing the transfer of Monique Cotton from the Spokane Police Department to the city’s Parks and Recreation Division.
Deshais August 18th PRR.
One thing to always remember about allegations of misconduct by government employees is that there are several different ways allegations are handled internally and if you limit yourself government will take advantage of your self-limiting request anyway they can. Using the term “complaints” is okay as long as it is followed with an open qualifier that forces government to give you everything you are looking for.
I prefer this type of terminology when I seek government employee misconduct records because it opens the door for nearly everything:
“Any and all documents to include emails and text messages sent or received on any and all public or private cell phones computers utilized in any way to conduct any public business of the City of Spokane relating to any and all complaints or allegations, sustained, not sustained, or catorgorized as inquires made against Frank G. Straub, or Monique Cotton”
But make sure you spell check! (categorized) 🙂 🙂
On 12/7/2015 I received copies of Nick Deshais’s Public Records Requests regarding Cotton/Straub pursuant to my on-going PRR War with the City. When I opened the records the very first document was his request on Oct 21st, 2015. I had to chuckle because I knew what he was doing, and it was a good move because it gives an investigative reporter some insight on what other media outlets are doing like for example my Twitter and my Blog. Nick’s Aug. 20th and 21st PRRs are okay but he again limits himself to specific individuals without an open qualifier, which can come in handy during your PRR Battle because once you receive your first document dump it inevitably leads to more people and you can always claim non-responsiveness when you run across a name that is obviously involved but no records were supplied…in this case Bob Dunn comes to mind as do others. What Deshais’s Aug 20th, 21st PRRs do demonstrate however is that Condon’s statements to the City Council regarding the reason records were withheld until after the election are BUNK. After reviewing all of the records made public so far there are NONE that were not easily accessible to Terri Pfister unless they were being hidden from her as is sometimes the case. There is no reason the records obtained to date could not have been released prior to the election. Part of the defense game is always stall as long as you can in the hopes people will forget or get busy with something else. Just refer to my previous stories about my war.
Now let me return to explaining some of the facts Nick Deshais left out of his story. The fact is I have been investigating the Cotton/Straub story since before September 5th, 2015 when I filed my PRR. My first stories regarding the Cotton/Straub case were published well prior to the election beginning on September 26th, 2015. I made available to the public some of what I had received via my PRR so the public and other media would gain a better understanding of the situation and start carrying the ball. I offered what I had to the SR but they never bothered to contact me or use any of the information I had in their stories. The SR could easily have contacted me, obtained what I had which included text messages between Monique Cotton and Angie Napolitano which show a lot of what was going on. They could have written one hell of a story based on the public documents I had and they didn’t. Some of my documents corroborated some of their sources (yes I know Nick). I know folks at the SR read my stories because I made sure they had them via Twitter and in some cases they even responded negatively. A good lesson for any Investigator or Investigative Journalist to learn is, NEVER EVER DISMISS A SOURCE, even if you think the source is a “confused Jeremiah”, because you may learn Jeremiah isn’t as confused as you think. THE BIG QUESTION IS WHY THE SR HELD BACK A MULTI-SOURCED AND CORROBORATED STORY WITH SUPPORTING PUBLIC RECORDS??
These are just a few:
Nick Deshais story also links Condon’s letter which for any investigation opens avenues for inquiry not only from what it says, but from what it doesn’t say. Any legitimate investigation of the Cotton/Straub case requires that David Condon and every other players’ statements or testimony is taken under oath, if that isn’t done the investigation is a sham. “Hold Backs”…for those that know what I’m referring to! J J
That aside I want to mention some of the comical aspects of Condon’s letter as it pertains to me.
September 5, 2015
- Brian Breen files public records request for any and all documents to include emails and text messages relating to any and all complaints or allegations made against Frank Straub or Monique Cotton as well as any and all documents from third parties related to transfer of Monique Cotton between January 1, 2015 and September 5, 2015
Yes, David I sure as hell did, and I can tell it has you squirming. You can take two approaches to my PRR. The HIGH road or the LOW road…so far it has been the LOW road, it is entirely up to you.
September 16, 2015
- Jon Snyder files public records request seeking records released to Brian Breen.
Jon you are one of the Council Members from my District all you had to do was ask and I would have given them to you or anyone else interested. Jon, buddy, why does my City Council Member have to do a Public Records Request to get PUBLIC RECORDS?
RULE NUMBER TWO
All Public Records Requests involving government misconduct are battles that have to be conducted tactically and strategically by the requestor. Never forget that!
As Journalists sometimes do, I gave Nick Deshais a heads up that this story was coming and he is welcome to respond to the story in any way he sees fit, including an email to me (he has my email address), in the comments section of my blog, or a story in the SR. If he does write a story for the SR I would hope, he shows me the same curtesy I am giving him despite my SR persona-non-grate status with them.
BE SURE AND TIP YOUR NEWSPAPER CARRIER THIS CHRISTMAS!