Watcha Hiding?:  An Email Exchange

On April 26th, I submitted a request asking for meeting minutes regarding the development or revision of the city budget. I also asked to review Workshop minutes from 2011 to the present and requested copies of Workshop minutes from Oct 2016 to present. Finally, I requested a breakdown of the General Fund. The city clerk called me shortly after that request and set up a time for me to review those records. I went up Monday, and the records I requested, where not the records I received---instead I was given the BOA minutes.


The city clerk was out sick, so I spoke with the receptionist and informed her these were not the records I requested and I would contact the city clerk. I then spoke with the city's Finance Clerk. I explained to her what I was requesting when I said "breakdown." She understood what I was requesting and verified that their was a breakdown of the General Fund into various other accounts (e.g., Police, Parks, Courts, etc.). She also verified that these accounts were further broken down. She related that she would speak with the city clerk and/or the city Treasurer to clarify the nature of my request.


A day or two later the city Treasurer emailed me asking for clarification and I replied back. about two weeks had gone by and I had not received any response back. Last Friday, I sent the City Clerk an email asking for an explanation as to why the records I had requested were not being made available and a date and time when the records would be available. This past Monday, she replied back stating that my request was detailed and that she would let me know.


As I thought the request was fairly a simple one, I contacted the Attorney General's office to receive some advice concerning these requests. She verified that fulfilling the minutes should be a fairly simple process. She also stated that I was entitled to a date and time these records would be made available. I emailed the city clerk with this information and again requested a date and time this information would be available.


The city clerk's response:

Mr. Carroll:

You may not think your requests are detailed or time consuming but they are.

You originally requested notices, agendas and minutes of all open meetings for “development and revisions of the city’s budget” and Board of Aldermen workshop open meeting notices, agendas and minutes for a six year time span.


You also requested a “breakdown of all funds, accounts, etc. of the city’s General fund.”

I called you and advised that it would be very time consuming (and expensive for you) for staff to review six years of meeting documents to try to determine which of them might deal with “development and revisions of the city’s budget.” I reminded you that Board meeting documents are available on the City’s website and offered to make all of the city’s Board of Aldermen meeting records available in a conference room for your review.


I also pointed out in our telephone call that the City’s complete budget document and monthly Treasurer’s financial report are available on the City’s website for your review. And I invited you to call the Treasurer to clarify what “breakdown of funds” you seek.


You subsequently revised your request by referencing comments made at various Board of Aldermen meetings by the Mayor regarding him meeting with the City Treasurer and an aldermanic liaison to discuss budget matters and asked for minutes of those meetings instead.


As to this request be advised that I have no public records responsive to your request for minutes of discussions between the Mayor, Treasurer and aldermanic liaison. Meetings between the Mayor and his advisors and consultants are not meetings of a public governmental body and no minutes of those consultations are taken or retained by the City.


As to your request for a more detailed “breakdown” of information on the City’s general fund, neither the Treasurer nor I can determine any record that might be responsive to your request other than the detailed (13 page) monthly financial reports posted on the City’s website (under departments/finance/monthly treasurer’s report) to which both I and the Treasurer previously directed you.


I’m sorry we cannot be of any further assistance to you in this matter.


My response:

As part of my conversation with the Attorney General's office today, she was the one who advised me that meeting minutes should be a fairly simple request to produce. Maybe the city should review its record keeping practices---as I have requested similar information from other municipalities and those records have generally been produced within three days AND free of charge.


Regarding my first request from April 26,2017, where I requested "Open Meeting notices, agendas, and meeting minutes of ALL meetings concerning the development and revisions of the city's budget from April 2011 to April 2017." I worded it this way, as I don't know what the group of elected and appointed officials who develop and revise the city's budget is called.


Regarding your statement, "You subsequently revised your request by referencing comments made at various Board of Aldermen meetings by the Mayor regarding him meeting with the City Treasurer and an aldermanic liason to discuss budget matters and asked for minutes of those meetings instead." I am/was not revising my request. As you didn't seem to understand what I was talking about, I offered this reference as clarification to what I am requesting.


So to be clear, upon reviewing the city's last audit, I would like to call your attention to page 39, where it states, "Prior to July 1, the Budget Committee submits to the Board of Alderman a proposed operating budget for the fiscal year." Per the Sunshine Law, this Budget Committee would be considered a public governmental body. Accordingly, residents should be made aware of the dates and times of these meetings and records of these meetings should be kept.


Or, the accounting firm is yet again providing inaccurate information in their official reports concerning their audit of the city's finances. If this is the case, either someone representing the city is supplying the accounting firm with inaccurate information. Or, the contents of the audit are not being thoroughly reviewed by the city and sent back for corrections. Or, the accounting firm is just making things up and putting them in the audit (if this is the case, this is their second time in doing so)---consequently, the city may consider utilizing a different accounting firm for next year's audit.


Additionally, you stated in your email, "I called you and advised that it would be very time consuming (and expensive for you) for staff to review six years of meeting documents to try to determine which of them might deal with “development and revisions of the city’s budget.” I reminded you that Board meeting documents are available on the City’s website and offered to make all of the city’s Board of Aldermen meeting records available in a conference room for your review."


On a side note, I reviewed the Workshop meeting minutes and the BOA meeting minutes from Jan 2016 to July 2016, it took me about 15 minutes to review those minutes regarding budgetary issues The Workshop meeting minutes are extremely scant. It took me about two minutes to review six months worth of minutes. So, I guess it is difficult for me to understand how this review would be time consuming, unless there are other meetings that I am unaware.


Both you and I know that there are no discussions to the specifics of the budget during BOA meetings. To suggests that our city is open and transparent to have these detailed and specific discussions regarding the development of the city's budget at BOA meetings is ludicrous. However, per your suggestion and as mentioned previously, I reviewed the BOA workshop minutes and meeting minutes from January 2016 to July 2016, with the exception of one reference (March 17, 2016 BOA meeting minutes, it states, "Alderman Roth will contact Bill about scheduling regular upcoming Budget meetings."), there was no mention of any discussion regarding the development of the city's budget.

So, what you are wanting me to accept is that the city's $4,000,000+ annual budget magically appears and the BOA just votes on it? Who is responsible for the development of the city's budget? There is documentation to show we have a city Budget Committee and budget meetings.


So for this portion of my request, I am requesting Open Meeting notices, agendas, and meeting minutes of the city's Budget Committee.


Regarding my request for a breakdown of all funds, accounts, etc. of the city's General fund, you stated, "I also pointed out in our telephone call that the City’s complete budget document and monthly Treasurer’s financial report are available on the City’s website for your review. And I invited you to call the Treasurer to clarify what “breakdown of funds” you seek." I am NOT requesting the City's complete budget document and monthly Treasurer's financial report.


The day I came up to review minutes, I spoke with the Finance Clerk and explained to her what I was wanting. She understood what I was requesting and related that she would communicate this to you or Mr. Krenn. Obviously, there appears to be a breakdown in communication somewhere.


The city has four funds: a General Fund, a Sewer Lateral Fund, a Debt Service Fund, and a Capital Improvement Fund. The General Fund is further broken down into sub-funds or accounts or whatever terminology you want to call them into: Police, Parks, Courts, etc. The Finance Clerk verified that this was correct. The Police, Parks, Courts, etc. are further broken down into different sub-funds, accounts, or whatever terminology you want to call them. Again, the Finance Clerk verified that this was correct. So, I am requesting a listing of these sub-funds, accounts, or whatever terminology you may want to call them.


Additionally, per my Sunshine request of April 26, 2017, I requested copies of Workshop minutes from October 2016 to the present, which still has not been fulfilled.


I hope this clarifies what I am looking for. Please give me a date and time when this information will be provided.


I receive a reply back from the City Clerk regarding my Sunshine request:

Mr. Carroll:


I responded to your Sunshine Law request relating to budget-related minutes and general fund “breakdown” Monday afternoon. To repeat:

1. There is no “budget committee” created by state law or city ordinance. State law provides that the duty to develop a proposed budget is a singular –not collective – responsibility. No “budget committee” has been established by law or appointed by any public entity. Thus there are no “minutes” of meetings of such a committee. Nor is there such a “public governmental body” within the meaning of the Sunshine Law. I acknowledge that there have been references using the term “committee’ in instances; but that use has been an informal expression indicative of the informal collaborative effort the Mayor has used to solicit advice and expertise from various elected and appointed personnel to assist his development of a proposed budget and monitor actual-to-budget progress throughout the budget year. I would also point out that advice, opinions and recommendations offered in connection with deliberations in the process of the Board’s adoption of a budget are not public records in any event.


2. As to your request for a general fund “breakdown” I have directed you to an on-line source for the only records of which I am aware that provide a detailed compilation of the City’s fund data.

I admit I overlooked your request for copies of 6 years of Board workshop minutes. There appear to be approximately 103 pages of records responsive to your request. Staff time to prepare copies is estimated to be $20 at $10.00 per hour. 103 pages times $.10 per page and 2 hours of effort times $10.00 equals $30.30. Upon receipt of payment I will have the copies made and let you know when they can be picked up.