Elise Hu has a fifth entry in her series called "The Purge", on how Governor Perry's office disposes of email, possibly in conflict with Texas' open records laws. (See here, here, and here for background.) Along the way, Perry has picked up a bit of a thorn in the side, a fellow who has taken advantage of the fact that the Governor's office will retain emails for which a public information request has been made. We pick up the story from there:
Twice a week for the last three weeks, open government crusader John Washburn has sent out a TPIA request for the governor's office emails, excluding constituent mail. He received an itemized response from the Governor's Deputy General Counsel this week, with charges for FOUR DAYS worth of emails:
31.5 hours of staff time at $15/hour = $472.50 (to compile and redact emails)
Overhead at 20% of staff charge = $94.50
CD for compiled material = $1
TOTAL for four days worth of emails = $568
The letter from the Governor's office once again encourages Washburn to narrow his request to save money.
UPDATE: The Observer blog has more.
Washburn could be looking at an open records request fee total of more than $2,000 per month -- and Perry's office also noted that a failure to receive the funds would result in automatic withdrawals of outstanding requests, along with a note that no disclosure of the records requested would begin until the governor's office receives a "deposit."
What was Washburn's reaction?
"I laughed at it, to be honest with you," he says. "It is exorbitantly high."
Washburn says he knows exactly what he asked for, and he knows that it can be easily obtained.
"How hard can email extraction be from a server?" he asked. (I must admit thinking about that for a minute. Perry's office is claiming 31.5 hours of staff time at $15 per hour, which results in the bulk of the $568 figure. What will those staff members be doing during those hours? We called Perry's office and they said they'd get back to us with more details.)
Washburn asked for the emails in their original, digital format. There is a question as to how such documents can be redacted, and for that matter, what is the logic of the redactors?
Washburn, who has a history of open records activity in Wisconsin, Florida, and now Texas, says he has never before encountered a charge for staff time, although it is standard in the Lone Star state.
He did tell me that he was surprised by what he called Perry's 'gambit.' He said he thought Perry would take the 'drag-it-out' approach to stifling records requests.
"Before, I thought it was just going to be stretched out," Washburn says. "Now, they're hoping that I won't come up with the money."
So far, Washburn has requested the governor's emails from preceding days on Nov. 6, 9, 13, 20, and 23. The objective, Washburn said, was to stop a pro-forma email destruction policy that Perry's office had in place -- and which it said it inherited from Governor George W. Bush.
Washburn does have a plan to thwart Perry's latest move, but it will take another post to assess its merits.