Why Not Just Tell Us?

Posted December 16th, 2013 @ 8:56 AM by

Ok, why won’t anyone say where the $50,000 for operating and $75,000 for renovating the day center is coming from. My first ever open records request denial – after about 20 years of submitting them without problems.

My concern is twofold here. First of all what happens if there is no money or the money doesn’t come through? What happens to the funds the day center is relying on? How do we know these donations are reliable – since no one seems to know who the donors are. My other concern is for the Tenant Resource Center and why it is a problem that we are the fiscal agent – I’d like to know what the problem is . . . back to how it affects the day center, why are they wasting money getting a new fiscal agent that will likely charge $15,000 instead of cost ($5000 or less).

I submitted an open records request on November 27th and I received this as a response:

December 10, 2013

Brenda Konkel via email to: brendakonkel @ gmail.com

RE: November 27, 2013 Open Records Request

Dear Ms. Konkel:

I am in receipt of the open records request you sent to Joe Parisi, Jeff Kostelic, Lynn Green, which reads as follows:

I would like to formally request copies of emails, correspondence or other written documents regarding the donation of $50K for the operating costs and the $75K in renovations for the day resource center. In particular, I am requesting the name or names of the donor or donors. Sorry to do it, but I’m concerned about some misunderstanding that they or United Way have about the Tenant Resource Center and feel like we should be able to address those concerns directly.

Although I am not the custodian of the requested records, I have been asked to facilitate a response on behalf of Mr. Parisi, Mr. Kostelic, and Ms. Green. Please note that you sent your request to Mr. Kostelic’s home email address. In the future, please direct official County business to Mr. Kostelic’s Dane County email address: Kostelic.Jeffrey@countyofdane.com .

Your request is denied. Under Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(h), requests for records must reasonably describe the records or the information requested. That same statute also provides that a request without a reasonable limitations as to subject matter and length of time does not constitute a reasonable request. Your request for emails is not limited to a specific period of time.

Furthermore, your request asks for emails about a very broad topic, rather than providing us with specific search terms. We do not know if you would like us to search for emails using terms such as “day resource center” or “operating costs” or “renovations” or “donor” or some combination of these search terms. Finding emails about a particular topic with no time limit (as opposed to searching for emails with specific terms over a particular period of time) would require reading voluminous emails, and, therefore, is not a reasonable request under Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(h).

As to your request for written correspondence and other written documents, it is unclear as to whether you are looking for documents related to donations from United Way to Dane County, or documents related to donations from a private donor (or from private donors) to the United Way. This part of your request also does not contain a reasonable limitation as to subject time. Therefore, this part of your request also does not constitute a reasonable request under Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(h).

Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 19.35(4)(b), I am required to inform you that if you disagree with any determinations contained in this letter you may seek review by mandamus under Wis. Stat. § 19.37(1), or by application to the attorney general or a district attorney.

Sincerely,

Dan Lowndes
Risk Manager & Records Control Officer

Took me a moment or two to figure out how to respond as I have never had a request denied. Usually I try to figure out how to make my request work for the person who has to find the records as I understand the complications of it, having been the recipient of open records requests in the past. I’ve never had quite this level of obstruction. My response was to rewrite the request in hopes to clarify what I am looking for – really, its simple, all they have to do is say who the donors are and I can find out what their issues with the Tenant Resource Center are. Here’s my response.

Dan, thank you for your response.  I am officially submitting a new request to conform to your needs to the best of my ability – of course, if I knew the information I was requesting, I could be more specific, but without that information I have to guess to a large extent.  I thought I would more thoroughly explain what I am looking for and why so that is may help you in your search.  I am quite surprised by the denial of my request as I have been making open records requests to local government officials and staff for nearly 20 years and this is the first time I have ever had a request flat out denied.
WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR:
Simply put, I just want to know who the donors referred to in the following budget line items and amendments are.

 

The 2014 county budget contains the following statement on page 169 of the electronic pdf in the Human Service Department. “EAHMLTBD 81021 DAY CENTER PARTNER REV-PRIVATE  $50,000″. These funds are the result of budget amendment HHN 9 for $150,000 that says “This represents a combined contribution between thed City of Madison $50,000, The County $50,000 and others private partners of $50,000 for the 2014 operating costs.” (emphasis added)

On page 172 of the budget there is the following line item “HSCAPPRJ 58200 REHAB OF DAY RESOURCE CENTER 0 0 75,000″.  This is the result of amendment HHN 15 that says the following:  “Increase revenue from private donations in the amount of $75,000 and expenditures by $75,000 for rehabilitation of the day resource center facility.” (emphasis added)
I am looking for the source of funds of the $50,000 from “private partners” for operating funds and “private donations” of $75,000 in capital funds for rehabilitation of the day resource center.
WHY I AM REQUESTING THE INFORMATION:
In case this helps, I am asking who the private donors and partners referred to in the budget amendments for the following reasons:
- The lead sponsor of the operating amendment (Wegleitner) and the capital budget amendment (Kolar) have told me they do not know who the donors are.
- In the past Dane County has relied on private funds to fund programs such as the Veterans Bus Passes and those funds never materialized.
- The nonprofit recipients of these funds have been told that if the Tenant Resource Center is the fiscal agent for these funds the donor will not provide the funds, but has not been told who is making this request to change fiscal agents.
- The search for a new fiscal agent has been taking time away from providing services and there are minimal funds available for staff and it seems to be an unwise use of limited resources trying to find a new fiscal agent.
- Whoever the new fiscal agent is will likely charge 10% of the funds which is typical for fiscal agents, the Tenant Resource Center would only charge cost, allowing for more funds for providing services.  Additionally, RFP responses for the funds did not include this additional expense.
- If there is an issue with the Tenant Resource Center being the fiscal agent, I would like to know what it is and if it can be resolved.
- The capital funds will need to be ready in time for the center to open and if there are no funds that may jeopardize the opening of the center.
LENGTH OF TIME
I understand you want me to more reasonably describe the records or information I am requesting and include a time limit for the request.  The time line is much longer than I would like, but necessary because this issue has dragged on unreasonably long.  Funds for the day center were included in the 2013 budget, so I am including the dates of the 2013 and 2014 budget process.  August 2012 – present is the period of time of the request.
NEW REQUEST
I believe I have now more reasonably explained what it is that I am looking for. I am requesting copies of emails, correspondence or other written documents regarding the donation of $50K for the operating costs and $75K in renovations for the day resource center during the time period of August 2012 through the present date.  I am expanding the original request to not only include Lynn Green, Joe Parisi, Jeff Kostelic and Mary Kolar, but to also include the additional sponsors of the HHN amendments 9 and 15 “Supervisors Wegleitner. Kolar, Sargent, Levin, Hotchkiss, Krause, Zweifel” as well as the likely contract administrator Tim Saterfield and County Board Chairperson John Hendrick.
In the alternative, if the records request is time consuming for the staff facilitating it, someone could just officially say who the donors are and what the issue with the Tenant Resource Center being the fiscal agent is.
If you have any questions about this request, please feel free to contact me via email or at 608-345-8720.  If I can further clarify anything to make the search for the documents any easier, please feel free to let me know.  My intention is to cooperate in making this as easy as possible as I do not want to waste valuable staff time.    I think my request is clear, I understand your search for the documents is more complicated.  I believe the elected officials and staff members that are the subject of this request know if they have these records or not and it may be easier to simply ask them if they know the answer to the question of who the donors are and what the problem is with the Tenant Resource Center being the fiscal agent.

 

Thank you in advance.

 

Brenda Konkel

cc:  Colin Gillis, Tenant Resource Center Board President
Anders Zanichkowsky, Tenant Resource Center Program Director
Sarah Gillmore, Shine 608, Inc.

I need to note that the private donation for the Vets Bus Pass program came in last week – which was news to me, so maybe that isn’t an issue, but I know there were questions about how that was going to work if they didn’t give their donation. Glad that was resolved.

I guess we’ll see what happens.


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