Saturday, December 10, 2011

Will City of Deerfield Beach Manager, Burgess Hanson, and City Clerk, Ada Graham Johnson face ethics or criminal investigation by the SAO, the new Broward OIG, or both????

In my blog post entitled "City of Deerfield Beach: What's Going On?????", which can be read here, I advised my readers of situation where the City of Deerfield Beach denied my right to access public records.  The City Clerks office under Ada Graham-Johnson, in response to a public record request I submitted on November 16, requesting the application packet for the memorialization of SW 10th Ct into Bethelehem Missionary Ct (or whatever).  I received the following response from the City.

Mr. Cody,

The City Clerk’s office is in receipt of your PRRs, public records requests, however, as directed by the City Manager and further reviewed by the City Attorney, it has been determined that your requests will not be fulfilled until your outstanding fee for PRRs made, totaling $343.88 is paid in full.  The records are as follows:

June 15, 2011 – Staff labor to provide copies of e-mails for various staff and
Chaz Stevens, plus C/D                                                                                                   $320.18
June 14, 2011 – copies of PowerPoint Budget Presentation from all departments.                    4.50
September 12, 2011 - SHIP Application for Mike Weiss                                                                         19.20                                                                                                                                                                 Total     $343.88
  The June 14th and September 12th PRRs you have not contacted the Clerk’s office to review or purchase. 
Now, some of you might be wondering, why is the City Manager involved with the Clerk's office fulfilling it's legal duty as the Custodian of records, which I believe is a legal obligation held by the City clerk and not a City function, as it is mandated by State Statute.  I could be wrong, though.  

Anyway, some of you might remember that June 15, 2011 public records request, as it is the one that I originally submitted on April 11, 2011 and posted it to my blog the same day, which can be read here. I asked for some emails from the City to verify if there was a leak of information in the City Managers office and if they were sending information to Chaz Stevens.  The City initially never responded and only after I filed a compliant on June 9, 2011 with the SAO against the City regarding this specific public records request for emails, to which the Clerk's office took over 2 months to even respond and only after a formal complaint was filed regarding the emails requested in the prr from April.  In my complaint I even stated that the Clerk's office was working diligently on my request but 50+ days was unreasonable.  I assumed the City was hindering and frustrating my access to public records and not the Clerk's office.  I would come to find out that I was NAIVE in my original thinking because it became obvious to me later that Ada Graham- Johnson was a "pawn" and did the bidding of whoever signed her fat paychecks, regardless of the laws she was supposed to uphold as the Custodian of Records.

Please note that in the original email and the subsequent request I formally requested a written estimate if the request was to require "extensive research", so that I could determine if the fee was reasonable and advise the Clerk's office if I wanted them to proceed with fulfilling the request.  Suffice it to say that I didn't get that written estimate until June 15, 2011, or at least I thought it was a written estimate per my original request.  I promptly contacted the Clerk's office and advised them that the fee was ridiculous and I didn't need the emails that badly to pay the IT department for 8 hours (one business day) of work to locate a few emails in MS OUTLOOK, something a monkey could do in 5 minutes.  I had words with Clerks office regarding the fee and they ultimately advised me that the fee was reasonable and I advised them not to proceed because I was not paying the fee as indicated on the written estimate.

So, for anyone to tell me or even spread the information that I failed to pay them for these documents would be a blatant and outright LIE.  Well, in November the City did just that in an attempt to cover up and hide the City Managers and the City Clerks blatant attempt at denying me my rights to access public records in an attempt to hinder and frustrate me so that I stop digging into their dirt and providing the information to the public and as a retaliatory action because of the complaints that I filed against the City Manager and the City Clerk with the State Attorney's Office and Broward Office of the Inspector General.  

How could the City Manager and City Clerk use their position to exact their personal and professional revenge against me.

Is that a violation of F.S. 112.313(6)???

(6)  MISUSE OF PUBLIC POSITION.—No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others


City of Deerfield Beach Ethics Code under Article IX, Sec. 2-502 (c) and (e)

(c) A regulated officer shall not induce, attempt to induce, offer, solicit or knowingly assist any person in violating subsection (a).

(e) A regulated officer shall not use or attempt to use his or her official position to improperly or unreasonably request, grant, or obtain in any manner any privileges, advantages, benefits or exemptions for themselves or others that are not available to those generally available to city residents or which are not specifically incident to their position and the conduct of their public duties.

All I was trying to do is make sure the City is as transparent as possible and is looking out for the best interest of its residents.Especially, given the history of mis-management and corruption at City Hall, even the City initiated Kessler report indicated such.  Yes, I have been critical of City Staff when I see that something is not quite right and Yes I publicly announced all of my findings at City Commission Meetings, for which I have been lambasted, roasted, ridiculed, mocked, and harassed about and that is just from the Commissioners and Mayor.  Wow!  I know you are probably thinking that I am exaggerating at this point, but if you watch the City Commission meetings then the proof is there, as most recently as December 6, 2011.  Yes, the resident that Mayor, Peggy Noland, is talking about being critical against the City Manager and therefore basically, should not be allowed to speak is ME.  She is referencing my comments about the City Manager not being upfront with the public when it came to the HomeSec OIG FEMA audit of the City of Deerfield Beach, which the conclusion and final outcome should be made public this month, if it hasn't been done already.  You can read about that situation here.

Ok, let's talk about the June 14, 2011 prr that the City says I failed to pay and which caused me to have my rights trampled on.  That prr was to inspect and review documents from a public workshop, where does the fee come in.  The email I received from the Clerk's office indicated that the file was to big to send electronically and therefore I could come in to review them and said nothing about copying or a fee.  Yeah, I never came in to review them because the City eventually posted them on the website and there was no need for me to come and review them, so why is the City now indicating that I failed to pay them.  It makes you think and wonder what is really going on here.  

So, on to the September 12, 2011 request which was to review public records and at no point did I advise the Clerk's office to make copies and therefore where did they derive that I owed them a fee for this request, which according to them I subsequently failed to pay.

In both the June 14, 2011 and the September 12, 2011 public records request, even if fulfilled there would have been no fees associated with either request unless I requested copies, which I never did.  I just never went in and reviewed them, which is free, because the documents were no longer needed by the time a response was given by the Clerks office.  The Clerk's office even indicates in their email denying me my right to access, as listed above, that I never contacted them to review or to purchase these dates.  So why are they now saying that I failed to pay for them...hmmmmm!!!!

I bet at this point you wouldn't be surprised to know that since June 14, 2011, when I supposedly owed all this money to the City, the City has fulfilled several public records request since and I have been into the Clerks office and ordered, received, and paid for some prr's (unrelated to the above dates).  Heck, I have even received prr's fulfilled by the City Managers office directly, but then for some reason after I filed the formal complaint with the SAO did this nonsense occur and the City Manager and City Clerk's office come up with these bogus allegations as a way to hinder and frustrate my right to access public records, which is illegal.

Therefore, they left me no choice but to follow-up on all my complaints to the SAO and the Broward Office of the Inspector General regarding these matters and only after the City was contacted by the OIG (Thank you Agent Suarez) did I receive the following the email from the clerks office.

Mr. Cody,

Due to the City Attorney’s response to your complaint (attached), we will not withhold your public records requests as a result of your past failure to pay for a previous request.  Notwithstanding, we will be adopting a policy for cost estimate and deposits for extensive public information request and sanctions for failure to pay for public records request.  These policies will be imposed prospectively.  Therefore, in an effort to move forward with completing your request(s), please clarify your public records requests, for all records that you wish to review and or purchase.  Please keep in mind that a cost will be assessed if the research is beyond 15 minutes as well as .15c. per page.

Ada  Graham-JohnsonAda Graham-Johnson, MMC, City ClerkCITY OF DEERFIELD BEACHCity Clerk's Office150 NE 2nd Avenue  
The City Attorney, Andy Maurodis, composed a letter, which basically stated that the City had the right to deny my request for my failure to pay for previous request and the Clerks office followed all legal policies.  He even went so far as to basically state that it was my fault that this happened because I cited the wrong statute when I asked for a written estimate for the June 15, 2011 prr (which was originally from April 11, 2011). 

The City breaks the law and the resident gets the blame, WOW!!!

Well, obviously I will not allow this to happen and I will continue pursuing these complaints.  I even sent the following response to the City regarding Ada's email and Andy's letter.

In Malone v. City of Satellite Beach, No 94-10557-CA-D (Fla. Cir. Ct. Brevard Co. December 15, 1995), per curiam affirmed, 687 So. 2d 252 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997), the court noted that a city's requirement of an advance deposit was contemplated by the Public Records Act. See s. 119.07(4)(d), F.S. According to the court, the city "was authorized to require the payment of an advance deposit under the facts of this case before proceeding with the effort and cost of preparing the voluminous copies requested by the plaintiff ." And see Herskovitz v. Leon County, No. 98-22 (Fla. 2d Cir. Ct. June 9, 1998), in which the court said that if an agency is asked for a large number of records, the fee should be communicated to the requestor before the work is undertaken. "If the agency gives the requesting party an estimate of the total charge, or the hourly rate to be applied, the party can then determine whether it appears reasonable under the circumstances." Id. Cf. AGO 05-28 (custodian authorized to bill the requestor for any shortfall between the deposit and the actual cost of copying the public records when the copies have been made and the requesting party subsequently advises the city that the records are not needed). 

This statement was the basis of my asking for the estimate and when I finally received after a few months, I promptly called the clerk and advise that I did not want it for that cost.  I even had words with one of them, (I think it was Ada or Samantha, but I am not surerelated to the fee being charged of 8 hours to locate a few emails.  The end of the conversation resulted in me advising them that I did not want the record. 

If we all recall that the original June request in question is one that I filed a complaint with the SAO about June 9, 2011 against the CIty because how long it took to even respond to the original prr, which was April 11, 2011.  I didn't even get a response on it until after I filed the complaint and advised the clerks office that I filed it.  I even went to the clerks office and inquired with Quintella, if may complaint resulted in her getting in trouble because when I arrived to the clerk's office she was in tears after being in a meeting with the City Manager.  She did advise me "not to worry about it" she was not in tears because of my complaint, but I still til this day think it had something to do with whatever the City Manager had chastised her about that day.  So for the City to issue a letter stating that the clerk's office complied with all policy, makes me wonder about the policy and "reasonable" timeliness requirement(s) it imposes or applies.
The point is I did not fail to pay anything, because I promptly advised the clerk's office not to proceed with the request when I finally received the invoice, which I assumed was the written estimate that I had asked for back in April on the original request and the subsequent request.  The fact that I mis-cited a statute is of no consequence because the fact remains that I asked for written estimate, which apparently from the City's stance of me being responsible for the cost, was an error on the City's part, not mine. 

So, again, I feel that this denial of my request was a retaliatory action against me for filing complaints against the City Manager with the SAO and Broward OIG on October 8, 2011, as well as a deliberate attempt to hinder and frustrate the public (me) from accessing public records, which is illegal.  I will continue pursuing this complaint to its conclusion with whatever bodies have legal jurisdiction over this matter. 

The City Manageand the City Clerk should not be using their positions to hinder and frustrate the public, from their legally prescribed right to access public records just to exact their personal and professional vendettas against a citizen and resident who is just exercising his right to access public records to ensure that their government is as transparent as possible and acting in the best interest of its residents.

So, thank you foreversing your decision that effectively denied me my right to access the public records that I requested. Your decision also effectively hindered and frustrated me, so I will review my request to determine which ones are still needed, but at this point you can cancel all outstanding request that I have placed until I inform you via email of the request that I need and please accept and consider this my formal request as such.

Thank you

So after all of this and the City basically now trying to cover-up their blatant attempt to break the law and trample on my rights and yourights to have a access to public documents, all I can say is DAMN!!!  What kind of Government has this small town allowed to function like this for so long.  Where and when will the corruption in the City of Deerfield Beach's Government end?

Will the City Commission act on this?

What will the outcome be with the SAO and the Broward OIG be, if they both actively investigate these allegations and the allegations from the other complaints I submitted?

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