Memphis FOIA Update

On May 6, a FOIA request was filed with the city of Memphis for “copies of all computer, paper, and/or otherwise recorded notes made by any and all veterinarians at Memphis Animal Services from April 28, 2012 through May 6, 2012.” On May 17, in violation of the mayor’s executive order regarding open records and the TN Open Records Act, we received a response that there are no records matching this request but if we had a specific animal ID number we wanted to inquire about, we could do that. This request was filed after a tip was received that there was either no vet present or insufficient vet coverage at the pound for the week in question. I guess that answers that.

On May 8, a FOIA request was filed with the city of Memphis for “copies of any and all policy/protocol changes, updates, additions and deletions made by James Rogers since he took over the interim director position at Memphis Animal Services. This request includes, but is not limited to, e-mails, memos, manual revisions, notes, and recordings of changes to MAS policies and protocols.” On May 17, in violation of the mayor’s executive order regarding open records, we received a response that there are no records matching this request. So that answers that question. No changes made by Mr. Rogers of any kind since taking over as leader of MAS.

On May 10, a FOIA request was filed with the city of Memphis for 24 hours worth of security camera footage for the same cameras previously requested but for May 9 and 10. The request was followed up with numerous pleas for the footage to be protected, since all of the previous requests have been overwritten by the time the city gets around to responding. I anticipated the city would try to charge $800, since the number of cameras and total hours requested were identical to the last request where they tried to charge $800. On May 17, the city responded as follows:

Please see the attached estimate invoice for your requested video footage and verify whether you would like a copy.

Additionally, I disagree with your characterization of the City below as it relates to your video requests. Please note that the issues you have had with your video requests have not been based on any failures of the City to respond timely. The issue has been that your requests for footage were simply made too late. More succinctly, you requested video footage that had already been written over by the time you made your request.

Swell. And while we’re playing Let’s Rewrite History, why not toss in this invoice for $1100?! It’s fun!

This video request was made because I do not feel comfortable with the previous request which was compromised by the city.  I wanted to have an additional 24 hour period for comparison purposes.  But I think it is outrageous that the city keeps jacking up the fee.  What is 24 hours worth of footage going to cost next time – $1400?  In addition, the city is in violation of Mayor’s Wharton’s executive order and TN state law regarding records requests.  And to top it off, the city used to take screengrabs of Chameleon records and send those to us electronically but has now decided they will pay someone to convert these records to paper and charge us for this unnecessary expenditure.  In order to obtain these paper records, someone needs to visit city hall during business hours to pay for and pick up the records.

All of this – the failure of the city to respond within the time allotted by the mayor’s executive order and the state open records law, the ludicrous fee increases, the decision to waste taxpayer money by converting electronic records to paper in order to charge a fee and delay receipt – strikes me as punitive in nature.  I believe the city is attempting to hide the pound’s records from the public.  We have nearly $600 left in the bank from the contributions made to pay for the last request.  I think we need a lawyer.

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30 Comments

  1. Yes! Lawyer time! It may be the only way to hold these people accountable in any capacity.

    Reply
  2. Yes, lawyer time. Is there a chip in for this? I will donate.

    Reply
    • If we can find a lawyer in Memphis willing to take this on, I will set up a ChipIn. I already have almost $600 to get started. I don’t want to ask for more until we have an attorney on board. Suggestions welcome!

      Reply
      • Patti

         /  May 19, 2012

        Get a good one remember we would be taking on the city. I would chip in. Oh I forgot, the attorney would have to be honest too! Anyone got some suggestions?

  3. mikken

     /  May 19, 2012

    $50 an hour and the time it takes to do the videos keeps increasing. Whomever is in charge of the DVD copying should be asking themselves, “Why is the work going slower each time? Perhaps I should get someone who is better and more efficient at this job because this is affecting MY numbers, too…”

    Reply
  4. mikken

     /  May 19, 2012

    Also, that footage gets written over FAST, doesn’t it? Didn’t the Mayor say that they were keeping thirty days of footage? Now we’re down to what, seven days?

    And yet…it seems to disappear even faster than that when a request is made…

    I wonder if a lawyer could find out exactly how much footage is kept and for how long and how long because clearly there are inconsistencies here.

    Reply
  5. LisaO

     /  May 19, 2012

    Half way through I was thinking lawyer. Consider not sticking to just the Memphis area. Lawyers in North Mississippi often can practice in Memphis. Also, most law schools have some type of program where law students with superivsion handle cases. Look for someone who loves animals and wouldn’t mind a lot of free publicity from a winning case.

    Reply
    • I like ths idea actually, it might not result in the most experienced lawyer ever, but a law student who’s trying to make a splash? Oh yah, talk about incentive….

      Reply
  6. Beverly

     /  May 19, 2012

    Since it involves FOIA and State Sunshine laws, contact the TN ACLU for assistance.

    Reply
  7. I wrote to the Southern Poverty Law Center and asked that they contact you, Shirley. I also clarified that this was not a request for pro bono work. That might get their attention. :-)

    Reply
  8. snicci

     /  May 19, 2012

    I agree. Lawyer up! And by all means, set up another Chip In as needed. I’ll be happy to chip in again. There is a whole lot of change needed in Memphis, there’s no reason it can’t start with animal services.

    Reply
  9. Karen F

     /  May 19, 2012

    This practice handles FOIA requests only (i.e., federal information requests), but has a page on state open-records requests and might be able to refer you to a capable attorney who could handle a Memphis request. They offer a free consultation.

    http://www.foiadvocates.com/index.html

    And this attorney won an important open-records case in Tennessee, establishing that open-records requests do not apply only to Tennessee residents:

    http://www.bakerdonelson.com/bruce-anthony-mcmullen/

    Reply
  10. What was on the footage you did get?

    Reply
    • On the 3 discs I’ve watched so far, there are definite improvements over the last batch of footage. Dogs being carried with towels covering their heads, chokepoles being used properly, and dogs being put into cages on wheels for transport. These are all good things. Can I say that this is the way things are done every day at MAS now, even when they don’t have a heads up about us requesting footage? No, not unless I want to pay $1100 to find out.

      Reply
      • $1100 is a lot of money, but there are so many people rallying for change. Your readers may think this is money well spent if this is the improvement. Keep the pressure on them! It looks like this actions has worked when the people at the shelter and the Mayor couldn’t/wouldn’t get it done. I say “Great JOB”.. I vote to request more footage..

      • db

         /  May 21, 2012

        Sorry to be so suspicious, but if things were really changing for the better consistently, wouldn’t they want that information to “get out”?
        I say, we’ve come this far, let’s do what needs to be done. If the next step is an attorney, then so be it.

      • I agree, but if we keep paying for the video footage .. it will keep them on their so-called best behavior and realize we mean business. This crap with over-writing the footage has to stop. The law is the law.. period! I vote for getting a lawyer and keep the video footage coming so all can see.

  11. Jody

     /  May 19, 2012

    As far as an attorney goes, how about that one that applied for Pepper’s job? Oh, and I would gladly donate to help pay attorney fees….

    Reply
  12. I wonder if you just paid an attorney to file the FOIA (think that acronym is correct) if that would be enough to make them play fair. Send the message that your serious, and have a lawyer involved if they want to continue to play games.

    Reply
  13. Jamie

     /  May 21, 2012

    I am an attorney in North Mississippi that would love to help. Unfortunately, for ethical reasons, I cannot do so because of my current employment. I have asked for help from several colleagues in Memphis and North MS, but it’s not going to be easy to find someone that is willing to take on the City of Memphis right now unless they do that kind of work as a part of their routine practice. Attorneys are not willing to compromise their relationship with the prosecutors and judges that they practice in front of on a daily basis. My suggestion is that you contact a personal injury firm in the Memphis area (I would recommend http://www.nstlaw.com simply because of the number of attorneys they have on staff) and request that the work be done for a flat rate. If you make it known that the work may involve some media attention, some attorneys may take the case for that reason alone. If they wont take it, they may at least refer you to someone that will.

    Reply
  14. Kittypurr

     /  May 21, 2012

    I recently read an article about the probono work for the HSUS and ASPCA. That a lot of large legal firms are getting involved.
    The ADL was also mentioned in the article. Try googling any of the above terms and something should come up. I will see if I can find it in my history and post the link.

    Reply
  15. Laura

     /  May 24, 2012

    You might want to start by filing a complaint here….
    Tennessee

    Office of Open Records Counsel — State Comptroller Office
    (866) 831-3750
    Email open.records@tn.gov
    http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/openrecords
    “The Office of Open Records Counsel serves as the contact for concerns on access to local government public records under the Tennessee Public Records Act. The Office assists in obtaining public records from local government, both in guiding citizens to correct offices/officials and in working to resolve disputes regarding access to public records. The Office promotes education and awareness of the Tennessee public records and open meetings laws through direct outreach and through coordination with existing organizations. This effort is addressed both to citizens and to local governments.”

    Reply
    • Thanks Laura. We are in regular contact with this office and they are aware of the city’s failure to adhere to the law.

      Reply
      • db

         /  May 24, 2012

        Aware? Willing to act? What’s their call on all of this?
        Is it Memphis or the whole state government?

  16. mary francis

     /  May 24, 2012

    In my opinion – Retain an attorney if donations could be made to cover expense (get some idea of cost – a good honest attorney would be up front on the cost)

    CAUTION – AVOID any lawyers associated with or having sympathies for HSUS, ASPCA and PETA. (in my opinion)

    Reply

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