Criminal charges, divorce filings updated on Utah’s Right

10 08 2013

Worried about that guy who’s dating your daughter?

I”ve updated the criminal charges and divorces databases on Utah’s Right, with data from Jan. 1, 1997, to Aug. 2, 2013. The data does not include people whose cases were dismissed or handled through diversion or plea-in-abeyance agreements.

I also delete criminal charges that have been expunged, once I receive a copy of the expungement order.

Even taking out those cases, the databases are still extensive. There are 883,792 criminal charges listed in the database, an increase of 5,069 since the June update.

On the divorce side, we have 146,897 cases online, which is 4,058 more than there were in June.

Bear in mind, just because you found a person’s name in the database, that is not positive identification. The courts do not provide dates of birth in the data requests. So, please verify identities with another source before basing a decision on what you see on the site.

Advertisements




Salary databases show past, don’t predict future paychecks

5 08 2013

I received an email the other day from someone who wanted to let me know the Orem salary database needed updating.

“Please update the City of Orem salary information because it is 2 years old,” the person wrote.  “They are now in Fiscal Year 2014.”

The data up there at this time is for the 2012 fiscal year, which began July 1, 2011 and ended June 30, 2012. I will be posting the 2013 fiscal year data shortly.

But I can’t get to the fiscal year 2014 salary data because, technically, it doesn’t exist yet.

Yes, government agencies have already figured out how much they will spend on each employee’s salary and benefits package for the coming fiscal year. But, that money hasn’t been paid out yet.

I field enough complaints from people who don’t understand that we initially show gross compensation, which is salary plus benefits. Publishing what someone might earn in the coming year is not going to make many people happy.

Let’s say utahsright.com posted that an employee was making $100,000 in salary in the 2014 fiscal year, but the employee got fired two days into the year. While that money was budgeted for him, it’s not what he was paid, which would make that posting erroneous, as well as make this guy upset when he gets people asking about the 100 grand he was supposedly paid.

In the coming weeks, utahsright,com’s salary databases will be updated to show the 2013 data — at least for the agencies that are willing to share that data.





U.S. Border Patrol wins IRE’s first-ever award for withholding information

11 07 2013

The Society of Professional Journalists and its Utah chapter are not the only groups using “awards” to spotlight agencies that withhold information from the public.

Investigative Reporters and Editors has created a “Golden Padlock” award to highlight government agencies and officials that stymie efforts at open government and transparency.

IRE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving investigative journalism, awarded the first Golden Padlock to the U.S. Border Patrol, for holding back details on shootings involving its agents along the border with Mexico that resulted in several deaths.

“The U.S. Border Patrol’s resounding silence on fatal shootings involving its agents epitomizes the kind of intransigence for which this award was created,” IRE President David Cay Johnston said in a statement issued by the group. “Accountability is an essential element of any public agency, but all the more so when its agents are empowered to fire weapons that kill. The Border Agency appears to have forgotten that duty.”

Other nominees for the award included the New Jersey Transit Authority for giving reporters a completely blacked-out copy of its hurricane-response plan; and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which took five years to produce a requested document on Lyme disease.

IRE also added the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder for revelations that the department was monitoring journalists’ phone records.





Sen. Deidre Henderson named transparency board chair in absentia

10 07 2013

Wednesday was supposed to be Sen. Deidre Henderson’s first meeting with the Utah Transparency Advisory Board.

But Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican who is taking the place of Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, wasn’t there. Instead, she was attending a meeting of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators in Philadelphia.

But her new board colleagues came up with a suitable punishment: They unanimously elected her as the board’s new chair, a post also previously held by Niederhauser.

“Pick on the person who isn’t there,” Henderson tweeted after learning about her appointment.

Henderson sponsored SB283 during this year’s legislative session which expanded the board’s duties to provide access to more than just financial information through the state’s transparency website. Her bill also expands the board’s membership, including adding two public seats to the board.





Colorado city wants to ban people taking pictures of public records

13 06 2013

Durango, Colo., officials are trying to close what they see as a public-records loophole that is costing them money.

The Durango Herald reports that the city is proposing an ordinance that would ban people from photographing public records they request. It seems people are using their cellphones and tablet computers to get around photocopying fees by taking pictures of the documents.

The city charges 25 cents per page after the first 10 pages, whether the information is photocopied or scanned for emailing, along with billing for the employee’s time to prepare the files. Colorado’s records law, like Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, allow people to inspect public documents for free.

So far in Utah, it’s perfectly legal to take pictures of the documents without having to pay a fee. Even HB477 didn’t try to outlaw that practice.

City Clerk Amy Phillips told the paper that city workers will consolidate documents for a records request, and expect the person to come in and pick which ones should be copied.

“[B]ut we’re finding out now that people are able to come in with a phone and just (photograph) the copies,” Phillips said. “Then we don’t retrieve the money we spent.”

Along with a photo ban, the city is also proposing a $30-per-hour fee to for gathering the documents.

The proposal goes to a City Council vote on Tuesday.





Not all entities are posting on Utah’s Transparency website

3 05 2013

Since 2009, Utahns have been able to log on to a state website and see how much public employees are paid, as well as what agencies and governments were spending.

The goal behind the Transparent Utah website was to make government more, well, transparent. And in some ways it helps. Entities with budgets in excess of $1 million are required to post their books on the site.

But, as was discussed during Tuesday’s Transparency Advisory Board meeting, and heavy users of the site know, not everyone is doing that.

For example, out of 272 counties, municipalities and service districts that were supposed to start reporting their payroll in 2011, 11 have failed to do so. Out of 146 charter schools, colleges and universities, school districts and transit districts, eight have not provided payroll data.

Overall, nearly a third of the entities required to report did not submit 2012 salary data.

Darrell Swensen, the state’s transparency coordinator, said he didn’t think it was malice driving the lack of response. He said it was a matter of priorities for some entities. In other cases, the job passed from one person to another, the responsibility for posting the data eventually forgotten.

But the law does not provide any penalties for agencies that don’t get their payroll records online within the first quarter of a new fiscal year. Right now, the only enforcement mechanism is Swensen encouraging them to post, and providing a template to help them do it.

To really punish the delinquent entities would require revising the law, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, who drafted the law and chairs the transparency advisory board, said that is not likely to happen.

“I would rather take the passive approach,” Niederhauser said.

John Reidhead, the board’s vice chairman, suggested one way to bring the delinquents to heel is to have a statement put in their annual audit reports that they were not posting the information.

Another option, floated by Robert Woolley, with the state’s Department of Technology Service, was to create a “wall of shame” on the state site, highlighting which agencies are not turning in their data. He envisioned a box on the site’s homepage, showing the logo and the name of the offending entities.

The only drawback to that is that only site users will see who’s listed as delinquent, and the transparency site is not exactly a hub of Internet activity. This idea is sort of akin to pillorying someone in a private courtyard.

But to help shine the spotlight on the problem, here is a list of some of the entities that should be posting on the transparency site, but are falling behind, and fiscal year last posted online.

Box Elder County (2011)

Coalville (no data)

Duchesne (2011)

Fairview (2011)

Green River (2011)

Helper (2011)

Holladay (2011)

Kamas (2011)

Kanab (2011)

La Verkin (2011)

Lindon (2011)

Monticello Academy (no data uploaded)

Payson (2011)

Panguitch (2011)

Provo School District (2010)

South Ogden (2011)





State records ombudsman offers primer on Utah records fees

26 04 2013

Rosemary Cundiff, the state’s records ombudsman, recently posted an explanation of what fees can be charged under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

To put it in a nutshell, government entities can charge “reasonable fees” to cover the costs of producing records. The idea is that the employee who is filling the records request is being pulled away from other duties and there’s the cost of the paper and toner in the copier.

During the HB477 debacle in 2011, then-Rep. John Dougall attempted to expand the definition of reasonable fee to include the cost of benefits for said employee, the utilities for the office building and whatever else he could to jack up the fees.

Cundiff outlines what should be considered as a reasonable cost, such as only billing for the hourly wage of the lowest-paid person who can fulfill the request. That means if a $7.25-an-hour clerk can find the documents, the agency can’t bill you for the $200-an-hour lawyer to do the same thing.

Utah does allow for fee waivers, but as Cundiff points out — and many record seekers have learned the hard way — that the law says fees may be waived. In other words, an agency can waive fees out of the goodness of its heart, but is not legally required to do so.

This leaves the door open for some agencies to turn public records into a revenue stream, or use a fee as a way to discourage people from seeking records, since they are not commanded to waive fees.

State Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, attempted to address this by taking away the discretion in cases where the public benefited from releasing the document. But after the Utah League of Cities and Towns said the move would drive cities to the brink of fiscal ruin, lawmakers threw the bill into interim study, where open government advocates hope it will be considered and not allowed to die a slow, quiet death.

But in the meantime, what can people do to ensure that they are not paying too much for public records?

First, as Cundiff points out, there is no fee to merely look at a public record. People can do this to narrow their search to exact pages they are looking for, and thus reduce their copying costs. The agencies are barred from charging for staff time for these inspection sessions.

And if you want copies, make them yourself, as Joel Campbell, an assistant professor of print journalism at Brigham Young University pointed out. There are portable scanners that look like wands and don’t have to be hooked up to a computer to make a digital copy of a document. Or just use your digital camera or cellphone to take a picture of the document, as I’ve done in the past.

If the records are electronic, bring a thumb drive to copy them.

And if you get charged a fee, ask for a specific breakdown of the cost, line by line. And it helps to do a little homework before and find out what other agencies are charging for copy fees, as well as what the local copy shop charges for a photocopy. If a copy shop can make money off a 7-cent copy, why is a government agency charging 25 cents or even a dollar?

If all else fails, fees can be appealed in the same manner as denials. While the law says fees may be charged, the State Records Committee has found instances where an outrageous fee was being used as a means to deny access and ordered the fee waived.