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Still purging

Didn’t get to this last week, but Elise Hu is still on the email purge story (see here for the previous update).

Thanks to the generous donations of people from around Texas and the country, John Washburn, who requested several weeks worth of emails from Governor Rick Perry’s office, was able to pay for seven days worth of email.

The cost? $611.

Washburn requested these electronically, so there won’t be any charge for paper. The governor’s office estimated dozens of hours of staff time to extract the emails, which explains the cost.

Washburn, a software developer, actually took the time to create source coding to export emails, sort them by date, and automatically redact any non-governmental email addresses found in little to no time at all, but apparently it’s not being used.

Have I mentioned lately how much I admire this guy’s tick-on-a-dog tenacity and stubborn refusal to go away? There are plenty of David and Goliath stories out there, but few as entertaining to me as this one has been.

Washburn sent out a press release with an update on his quest. Click on to read it.

Payment for seven days worth of emails was received by the Office of Governor Rick Perry today. Beginning on November 6, 2007, open records activist, John Washburn, of Milwaukee Wisconsin, began sending periodic requests for electronic copies of emails sent or received by the Governor’s office. The requests were sent every Tuesday and Thursday and asked for copies of emails for the previous three or four days.

“Because the seven day retention period for these public records is so short, I was forced to make a series of requests under Texas Public Information Act where each request had to be less than seven days”, said Mr. Washburn, “If I had asked for two week’s worth of emails, then half of the requested emails would have already gone into the electronic shedder. I settled on half a week in order to give the Governor’s office enough time to turn off the shredders and respond to the record request.”

Washburn made a total of nine (9) requests for copies emails, email headers or both. The last automated request was sent on December 4, 2007. Combined the nine PIA requests ask for copies of the emails sent or received by the Governor’s office for one month; from November 2, 2007 through December 3, 2007; inclusive.

The Governor’s office has responded to these requests by insisting Washburn pay a $568.00 for each of the nine (9) requests before the Governor’s office will begin looking for the emails requested by Washburn.

“Thanks to the people who generously donated to my website,, I was able to send a check to the Governor’s office which covers the costs for two of the nine PIA requests”, said Washburn. “Unfortunately, at this time I can only afford to pay the excessive charges these two requests.” The checks sent to the Governor’s office pay for the emails sent or received for the four day period from November 2, 2007 through November 5, 2007 and for the three days from November 20, 2007 through November 22, 2007.

The Governor’s office is demanding Washburn pay $3976.00 before searching for or producing any records for the remaining seven PIA requests. Washburn claims these charges are excessive and has appealed the matter to the Attorney General. The Office of Attorney General of Texas, Greg Simpson, has agreed with the Office of the Governor and ruled that it is reasonable to charge Mr. Washburn $568.00 as the price to receive the 4 days of emails requested on November 6, 2007.

“At this point then next step is to pay this excessive charge and go to court”, said Washburn. If the courts decide the costs are excessive, Washburn could recover the fee and be awarded treble damages.

At the heart of the dispute about the reasonableness of the charges is how the records are to be produced. Washburn alleges the method chosen by the Governor’s office to search for and copy the requested emails is unreasonable and inefficient. Because the method is unreasonable he says, the cost of using this approach are unreasonable as well.

“The Office of the Governor has chosen the most inefficient method possible to search for and produce these emails. The Governor has asked each member of his staff to interrupt their day, search through their mail boxes, and print out emails the staff believes are responsive to my requests”, explained Washburn. “I deliberately designed these requests so the emails could be exported directly from the email server without bothering the staff at all.” To help with this export process, Mr. Washburn even provided the complete source code to a utility which will export emails, sort them by date, and automatically redact any non-governmental email addresses found. “The Governor’s office could have done the same and legitimately charged me for the time to design, develop and test such an application. Even with the higher rates allowed by law for programming time, this server-side approach would have cost less than the $5112 being charge using the inefficient, client-side approach of the Governor’s Office.”

At this time Mr. Washburn is waiting for the emails he has paid for, weighing his legal options, and hoping to raise the funds needed to pay for the remaining seven requests.

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