Down the Depraved Rabbit Hole in Memphis
May 23, 2012
After the city attempted to shake us down for $800 on the last set of MAS security camera videos, a FOIA request was filed for all documents pertaining to this fee. These records were purchased yesterday and reveal some interesting information which I will break down in this post.
In response to one of the where-in-the-world-is-my-FOIA-request follow-ups, James Rogers, interim director at MAS, wrote to Lou Ann Muntz, in part:
On Apr 5, 2012, at 5:21 PM, <James.Rogers@memphistn.gov> wrote:
Hello Ms. Muntz,
The person responsible for providing your request will return on Monday, April 9, 2012.
We will forward the report to you promptly upon their return.
Then on April 9, an update from Mr. Rogers:
From: “James.Rogers@memphistn.gov” <James.Rogers@memphistn.gov>
To: Lou Ann Muntz
Cc: Janet.Hooks@memphistn.gov; LaSonya.Hall@memphistn.gov; James.Perry@memphistn.gov
Sent: Mon, April 9, 2012 2:57:15 PM
Subject: RE: Response Requested (Ms. Muntz): FW: Records Request – Memphis Animal Shelter
The video footage you are requesting will be pulled on tomorrow.
Because of the security set up around our video system only one person has access.
I was not aware that only one person has access and informed you it could be pulled today. My error.
I do not have access myself or else I would pull it. Again, your patience is appreciated.
James M. Rogers
On April 5, Mr. Rogers seemed to indicate there was one person responsible for pulling the footage. On April 9, Mr. Rogers was apparently surprised to learn that only one person had access to the footage. This is purportedly due to security reasons.
Going back to April 5, a response from James Perry in the city attorney’s office regarding the records request:
Sent: Thu, April 5, 2012 4:00:55 PM
Subject:RE: Records Request – Memphis Animal Shelter
Please allow additional time for fulfillment of this public record request. I apologize, but the record’s officer in the MAS, Public Service Division is not at work today. The City had the 4th(yesterday) and has the 6th of April off. I believe the 5 day time was tolled on yesterday due to theoff day; however, I will make sure you will promptly receive your request as soon as the respective staff members from MAS are back at work. I will follow up with your request the first thing Monday morning. Have a wonderful weekend, and I apologize for any inconvenience.
Like Mr. Rogers, Mr. Perry seems to indicate there is one person responsible for pulling the video footage – “the record’s officer in the MAS”.
A snippet from an e-mail from Chandell Ryan in the city attorney’s office, in which she explains why the February request cost $200 but the April one jumped to $800:
To: Lou Ann Muntz; James.Perry@memphistn.gov
Cc: Brandy.Jackson@memphistn.gov; Janet.Hooks@memphistn.gov; LaSonya.Hall@memphistn.gov; Michael.Jones@memphistn.gov; James.Rogers@memphistn.gov; Brent.Nair@memphistn.gov; Lamar.Muhammad@memphistn.gov
Subject: RE: Amended Records Request – Memphis Animal Shelter
Hello Ms. Muntz –
It is my understanding that the previous February 2012 invoice was based on the best estimate that could be made at the time considering the lack of familiarity with the new system. This estimate was approximately $400. This amount was discounted to $202.94 by the records custodian due to some confusion around the request.
“Confusion around the request” is presumably a reference to the city’s failure to provide the footage initially requested. Of note, Ms. Ryan’s reference to a discount determined “by the records custodian”.
The MAS records clerk is Brandy Jackson. In 2009, she earned $24,124.71 (page 208) and in 2011, her salary was $27,199.38. Clearly Ms. Jackson, the sole person with access to the security camera footage, does not earn anything close to $50 an hour, which is the rate the city charges us to copy the footage when we file a FOIA request.
Via a FOIA request regarding the price increase on the videos, I found that the city appears to be contracting out the work of copying the discs. Despite the purported security concerns, the city apparently takes the footage from the solitary individual with access at MAS and hands it over to a company called SAIC for copying.
SAIC holds numerous government contracts besides working for the city of Memphis. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is a non-partisan, non-profit watchdog group and ranks SAIC as the 9th largest federal government contractor. POGO reports 13 instances of misconduct involving SAIC government contracts since 1995. The POGO website states that SAIC has paid more than $533 million to settle these claims which include cost/labor mischarge, fraud, double billing and defective pricing.
If Brandy Jackson is the only person able to access the security camera footage in the city of Memphis, who’s minding the store? That is, why is no one actually monitoring the footage and how on earth can the city claim unmonitored video offers any measure of protection for the animals at the pound?
Is Brandy Jackson the person with authority to provide a discount on FOIA requests?
If the city truly is concerned with security, why is the footage being handed over for copying to a company with a history of fraud and double billing?
Why should citizens be forced to pay $50 an hour for services which are clearly sub-par – as in oops, we forgot to do half the job?
I’m confident there would be someone with no history of defrauding taxpayers who is willing to volunteer services to copy the DVDs. Is the city of Memphis interested in considering such an offer?