Washburn's World

My take on the world. My wife often refers to this as the WWW (Weird World of Washburn)

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Location: Germantown, Wisconsin, United States

I am a simple country boy transplanted from the Piehl Township in northern Wisconsin to the Milwaukee metropolitan area who came down "sout" in 1980 for college and have stayed in the area since.
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Monday, November 05, 2007

A Guide To Hiding Public Records

Here is a short piece of satire byJohn Foust on How to Hide Public Records from nosy citizens. Hat tip to Wisconsin Sunbeam.

The article is orgainzed into two sections: Reasons and Tactics. There are three reasons to hide public records and ten tactics to used hide public records.

The three reasons are:
  1. You have nothing to hide. (because you do little)
  2. It's none of their business. There are plenty of embarassing facts in those files. Why volunteer them to a pesky newpaper?
  3. We can't do our job if we had to tell everyone what we're were doing.
The ten tactics are:
  1. Deny the record exists.
  2. Claim the request isn't specific enough.
  3. Make them pay for what they really want.
  4. Make haste slowly.
  5. Drive them nuts.
  6. Don't say more than you have to.
  7. Make mistakes and publicize requestor mistakes.
  8. Fake ignorance.
  9. Invent authority.
  10. Hire attorneys.
The paragragh on making mistakes cuts close to the bone for my current open records scuffle with my county clerk, Brenda Jaszewski [emphasis mine]:
    You can always ask for forgiveness. Surrender the wrong records. Forget to hand over some of their request. Split up the request into pieces, give out some, forget others. When they complain, say their request was so complicated and that you were so busy, you made a mistake.

    Mea culpa! Big deal! "What are you going to do, make a Federal case of it?" It's not as if you're going to be fired for making a mistake.

    The best mistake destroys a record. Zap those e-mails, and later claim you didn't know you had to keep them. Don't make backups. Claim you don't have the budget [voting system] for that.

    Erase audio tapes as soon as someone asks for them. These sorts of literal records are the most dangerous to release. After all, everyone knows the minutes of a meeting are the first opportunity to re-write history. One phrase in the minutes like "It was the general consensus that we should move ahead" will clear away the evidence of an hour of dissent on a tape. Losing the tape is an important part of preserving the official record of the minutes.

    If someone asks for an electronic record in electronic form, print it out and destroy the computer file. A database on paper is almost worthless for research, but the printed version probably complies with the legal requirements for preservation of the record.

    On the other hand, if the requester makes a mistake of any kind, say a lot about it. You'll look smart for pointing it out, and it'll build sympathy with your superiors. Point out that frivolous and repeated requests need not be answered.
I am sure the piece is satire, but I admit it is hard to tell. The line between satire and reality blurs badly sometimes when dealing with the humorless, such as public officials.


Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I'm glad you liked the Guide! Take a look at this week's Carnival of Open Records for more :)

Tue Nov 06, 11:13:00 AM CST  
Blogger Leslie Graves said...

Hi John,

Check out Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week.

Thu Nov 08, 12:01:00 PM CST  
Blogger MrBob said...

I read the article in Austin's American Statesman about Perry's email charges.

For Texas Polciy on email retention, one key source is the Texas State Library which sets standards for Texas State Agencies and Counties.

The cost of compiling email by Perry's staff is quite surprising considering the technical resources of Texas Dir - Department of Information Resources. His email retention software falls quite short. Email size rentention is usually compressed within mailbox depending on email platform used. I.E. Groupwise or Outlook Express.
There are a number of email retention software packages out there that can catalog, assign retention and track threads of subjects, completely in an automated fashion without user interaction. Indeed user's can delete their emails and this has no affect on being able to retain such email. Also this functionality allows the quick and simple exports of email based on threads and such to disk for distribution - fast, simple and painless when searching for email threads related to discovery requests and such. Perry's prides himself on being an leader that uses technology to provide superior service, it seems this trait does not apply to his office. When I read that "it is taking up a lot of taxpayer time" demonstrates how poorly their office is managed and the lack of proper systems to provide open government access in an efficient manner that maximizes public confidence with the office and yet saves substantial tax dollars in the process. Perry gets an "F" in this regard.

Mr. Bob
Austin, TX

Mon Dec 03, 09:29:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Bob,
Please provide samples of this software and any companies or agencies that use them.

Tue Dec 04, 12:42:00 PM CST  
Blogger John Washburn said...

To anonymous:
One such product is GWArchive
and is used by the Texas Department of Transportation. In fact TX-DOT, provides a testimonial for GWArchive on behalf of Message Archive. Notice the TX-DOT manages and acives the email for 11,000 mail boxes and all with out disturbing a single staffer when a Public Information Request comes into the information coordiator.

Here is a list of international companies and agencies who archive their emails.

The Governor is deliberately invovling the 300 people of the staff unnecessarily in order to run up the bill (tactic 3 above) and to claim these PIA requests watse staff time (in support of reason 3 above)

Tue Dec 04, 01:55:00 PM CST  
Blogger MrBob said...

GWArchive is a good product. For the other side of the fence, check


This is not foo foo science. When I read about lost email situations at the State and Federal level, I just cringe.....

It is just amazing to observe the different worlds that exist when I consider I am just down the block from the Governor's Office.....

Tue Dec 04, 02:56:00 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wondering if you (somebody) has a cost for such system/ software?
If a cost benifits analysis has been done?
Impact on state / local budjets?
Other alternatives?
Maintinance for such a system?
As in staff required to insure uptime?
Rocket sciencetist needed to use insure it is running properly?
I know in my company (3000+) employees it is a TREMENDIOUS pain in the rump. Both for the people implementing the system and the average Joe in his cube.

Wed Dec 05, 12:31:00 PM CST  

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