It’s fair to say that I’m frustrated.
Last May, I started investigating Georgia Perimeter College’s $16 million shortfall by submitting a series of Georgia Open Records Act requests. You were initially generous and complied with the requests for free. When I submitted the fourth GORA request on July 18, 2012, you quoted me a price of $2,963. After months of negotiating, we finally came to an agreement to lower the initial cost to $291 — albeit through the threat of litigation.
I’m not sure why it was so high to begin with. After all, I was only requesting emails. Nevertheless, you finally began providing the requested documents in December 2012. As of this letter, you’re claiming that all the documents have been provided to me. This is just not true. A quick perusal of what I’ve received compared to the original request shows that there is a significant number of records missing.
I’m sure you’re wondering how I was able to search through all 6,000 pages you’ve already given me so quickly. It would be an impressive feat, considering that you took the long way by printing out each email to redact, then scanning that email back into digital format as a PDF image file, which effectively disabled the ability to perform a keyword search. Indeed, discovering the truth is substantially more tedious without optical character recognition.
Then, last week you communicated — unbeknownst to me — with my successor, the current Editor-in-Chief of The Collegian, telling her that you would “waive the fee” if she “discontinued receiving the documents.”
So, I’m confused. Are there more documents — or not?
It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve caught you contradicting yourself. I visited your office this past Thursday, and you told me that the “problem” with my request was that it was “so huge.” When is it ever a problem for a concerned citizen to request open records?
Furthermore, you told me that in the future you would be dealing directly with The Collegian since I was no longer Editor-in-Chief. As I told you before, I will tell you again: GORA law doesn’t distinguish between requestor and entity. Regardless of my title, I am the requestor. You should be dealing with me. However, if you’d like to do things the hard way, I’d have no problem submitting a duplicate request. By law, you’d have to honor my request for free since I know for a fact that the cost of labor to produce the records has already been paid for by The Collegian.
The problem is not the size of the request — which an expert affidavit previously stated could be extracted in an hour. The problem, as my lawyer put it, is that “newsworthy information is being deliberately withheld under pretext.”
I remember last year when I was turned away empty-handed after repeated attempts to collect my first batch of documents. You tried to elicit my sympathy because you “didn’t have enough people necessary to deal with my request.” The police department, the fire department, the Gold Dome, city hall, the public school system, and many other state organizations all have Public Information Officers (PIOs) — whose job it is to deal with media and GORA requests. When I suggested you hire someone, you looked at me like a beggar on the street, rubbed your fingers together and said, “We don’t have the money.”
For the record, it’s hard to feel sorry for someone with an operating budget of $6.2 billion.
Finally, there’s still the issue of my outstanding GORA request to Georgia Perimeter College. I was told by my attorney, to whom you relayed after receiving his letter, that GPC should just “give [me] the records for free.” And, despite several phone calls and communications to GPC, I never received one document, nor was I told how I could get them. In fact, any time I spoke with GPC, they referred the matter back to you.
Does it strike anyone else as odd that a billion dollar educational institution somehow failed in its attempt to require schools to follow its mandate?
I want you to know that despite all the acrimony, I would still like to work this out as diplomatically and expediently as possible.
Lastly, if all else fails — make no mistake — you ain’t seen nothing yet.