Recently I received the article below as an email. I had forgotten about it until reminded. I just couldn’t resist offering it to you. Insiders say nothing has changed since this award was presented to Glendale in 2003 by the Arizona Press Club. I do know the former City Manager and the former Mayor wanted publicity about Glendale only to be “good.” Negativism or possible bad press was met with resistance. Information would be slow to come forth under a Freedom of Information request. If a media outlet reported something negative the former Mayor would often call to complain. It seems the “Brick Wall” has become taller over the years.

City receives Brick Wall from Arizona Press Club

By Rebecca I Allen | Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 11:00 pm

The City of Glendale has a new award to display in City Hall, and if officials can not find space for it in the trophy case, they could always use it in the construction of the Cardinals stadium.

The Arizona Press Club awarded a Brick Wall Award to the City of Glendale at the club’s 79th annual awards banquet Saturday.

The highly uncoveted award recognizes the person or public agency that “has done the most to obfuscate, obstruct, distort or otherwise stand in the way of reporting the news.”

Press Club President Dennis Joyce, assistant managing editor at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, speaking before a crowd of 277 journalists, said while the category is never short of contestants, the judges were unable to choose between two “richly deserving institutions,” so it took the unusual step of awarding two bricks this year. The second brick went to the City of Chandler.

The Press Club cited Glendale’s onerous public records policy as one reason the fourth-largest city in the state received the award.

Glendale requires reporters to fill out Freedom of Information Act (FOIAs) on the most routine documents despite the 102-year old Arizona Public Records Law: “Public records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours.”

Glendale officials took 31 days to respond to a March 14 request to view 75 days worth of FOIAs and public records requests. Each time The Glendale Star inquired as to the status of viewing the information, the newspaper was told the request was in process.

Julie Frisoni, the City’s communications director, said the delays are because the City is “buried in public records requests.” She said all public records requests travel from the City Clerk’s office, to the department(s) that has the information, back to the City Clerk’s office, then the information is sent to the City Attorney’s office where a stockpile of filled requests wait for release. Public records requests from the media are also copied to Frisoni’s department.

“I understand it’s taking a little longer than the seven-day goal,” Frisoni, a former producer for Channel 12 who joined the City staff in August, said.

Most reporters acknowledge some extensive records requests take more time than others. In the eyes of the Press Club board members, seven business days for every public record request does not comply with “promptly” under Arizona law.

“The custodian of such records shall promptly furnish such copies, printouts or photographs” (ARS 39-121.03).

In December, The Glendale Star requested a copy of a one-page letter, sent from the City engineer to the contractor working on Foothills Park, from an engineering department employee who had the letter in their hand. The employee asked the reporter to put in a public records request with the City Clerk’s office. The reporter complied and it took four working days to have the letter released. Another request, filed March 31, asked for public records regarding the City’s response to complaints from JD Steel workers, a subcontractor of Coyotes Arena builder Perini. After 11 business days the information was made available.

Frisoni said the attorney’s office is taking each request as it comes in, so many requests that are filled and ready to be released linger in the stack until a more comprehensive request is filled. Frisoni said she has offered to help the City Attorney’s staff multi-task the requests.

While some requests lounge in limbo for his sign-off, others meet the white- out brush of City Attorney Rick Flaaen. Flaaen redacts all addresses, phone numbers and email addresses from public records, including sign-in sheets for public meetings and speaker cards filled out by citizens attending City Council meetings.

“People should not have to give up their privacy to participate in government,” Flaaen said.

Dan Barr, an attorney with Brown and Bain and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, disagrees and said the City should not remove information voluntarily given by citizens.

Other Valley cities, including Peoria and Phoenix, do not redact that information.

In February, Flaaen said he advised the planning department to redact the addresses and phone numbers of people who attend neighborhood meetings held by developers as part of the City’s required citizen participation plans, and the addresses of Glendale residents who received developers’ notices of those public meetings. So far, the planning department has continued to make these public records available in its planning packets.

The Press Club board also received an email forwarded from a reporter at the Arizona Republic. Frisoni inadvertently copied her instructions for responding to the reporter’s information request, to other public information officers, to the reporter. In the email she wrote:

“I think it’s fine to answer some specific questions ? but for the specifics, he should fill out a specific FOI. I can’t imagine this story will be positive…”

Frisoni told board member Tom Zoellner that she was “shocked” by the award and said “the City of Glendale does not block information of any kind and in fact, hired a former journalist to improve communications with the media.”

© Joyce Clark, 2013

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