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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

One of the comments I received on my latest Tindall blog was in the form of questions. “If it (referring to Tindall’s advice) were legal advice given to the City, wouldn’t it be provided to the entire City Council? Does a subset of people on the City Council (fewer than would qualify as quorum) qualify as ‘The City’?” They are interesting questions raising a subject I have been thinking about for quite some time. One of the most precious commodities in local government is arguably, the power accrued from knowledge. There is an old saying, “that knowledge is power” and in government is it golden.

From the time I took my seat as a councilmember in 2000, Dr. Martin Vanacour, City Manager at that time, managed by the precept, what one councilmember knew, all councilmembers should know. Whenever I asked for further information on an issue or raised questions, my questions and the answers I received were always copied to all councilmembers and I received the same when other councilmembers asked. That practice was always followed under subsequent city managers until my retirement in 2013. That was the ethical thing to do.

So what has happened to the ethics quotient in City Hall lately? What caused an email request for legal advice to be sent by 3 councilmembers and former City Attorney Craig Tindall’s return response solely and exclusively sent to those 3 councilmembers? To refresh your memory about this specific email, here it is: Tindall email 3 correctedAn investigative cause of concern may turn out to be the legal advice he provided without benefit of a separate agreement permitting him to do so per his Severance Agreement. Legally it may prove troublesome to him at some point.

The greater issue that should be of concern to all Glendale city councilmembers, as well as to that of Glendale’s management, is one of morality and ethics. The three councilmembers that solicited Mr. Tindall’s legal advice were well aware of the terms of his Severance Agreement. I am sure those terms were discussed in at least one council Executive Session. They cannot plead ignorance. If they attempt to do so, shame on them. It is their responsibility to know and understand the terms of agreements such as these. Ignorance, if proffered, is no excuse.

Mr. Tindall was employed by the city for many years. He should have known better than to respond to only 3 councilmembers and not the entire council. During his tenure habit and practice dictated that he share with all of council. Was he advancing the agenda of the pro IceArizona councilmembers? A few months later he became General Counsel to IceArizona.

There is another underlying serious concern and that is, why were three of the four councilmembers who supported the IceArizona Management Agreement, asking Tindall about that very same agreement? They should have properly directed their question(s) to Dick Bowers, Interim City Manager or Nick DiPiazza, Acting City Attorney. Did they hope to gain some advantage over those councilmembers who did not support the IceArizona agreement? In any event, their motivation in seeking exclusive legal advice, not shared with others on the council, is suspect.

There is a separate, ongoing issue regarding ethics and that is the reluctance of senior staff to share all information with the entire council, whether it be helpful or detrimental to their agenda. There is a natural tension between senior management and the council about information sharing. It appears when it is information that furthers staff’s agenda they are all too willing to share but if it is information that does not, it is not shared readily or sometimes, at all, with council. There remains a culture of secrecy at the senior staff level, a walling-off of information that should be shared. It is all too apparent when a councilmember publicly asks for information that a senior staffer believes to be detrimental to his/her agenda. The request for information is stone-walled and a councilmember will frequently and publicly state that his/her previous request still has not been met. It is often obvious what staff’s position is on an issue simply by the way councilmembers’ questions are answered or ignored. It is senior staff’s duty to provide information on an issue, positive and negative, in a fair and impartial manner. It is council’s duty to make a policy decision based upon the provision of such information. It is not senior management’s prerogative to make a pre-determined decision on an issue and then manipulate the manner in which it is presented to council.

Over the years I occasionally asked for copies of a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request made by a member of the public. Sometimes staff would provide copies of FOIA requests when they thought it might be of particular interest to council. None of the copies provided ever contained redactions (blacking out of information). Lately that is no longer the habit and practice of senior management. Copies of FOIA requests have been provided with redactions. So much for transparency. It is not appropriate and the practice should stop immediately. Councilmembers must be fully informed about any situation and redaction of information does not serve them well.

Information is the coin of City Hall’s realm and councilmembers are not receiving their share. We are poorer as a result of this unethical practice.

© Joyce Clark, 2014

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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

FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to :http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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