Public records may be public but they’re not necessarily cheap.
I read a story in the The Herald-Tribune that said they had just paid $800 for records concerning the arbitration case of Nadia Kashitskaya, the North Port 911 operator who was fired for failing to send help to a crash victim.
The newspaper received about 1,500 pages of depositions, contracts and other materials.
The $800 was actually a discount for the newspaper. But before you praise city attorney Rob Robinson consider this:
Robinson also asked North Port taxpayers to pay for the newspaper’s request. According to a bill submitted to City Hall in January, Robinson and his Sarasota firm, Nelson Hesse, collected an additional $3,986 from the city coffers for a run-of-the-mill public records request.
Attorney Rob Robinson
As a city of North Port taxpayer I have an issue with this. Robinson is dubbed city attorney, but he’s not a city employee. The city pays him $160,000 a year to be available for routine legal business. Robinson and his firm charge $160 an hour for any extra work, which has lately added up to some $1 million a year. And, with the state of our economy this is ridiculous!
When our public library is only open 7 hours a day most days, the hours being from 10am to 5pm, when our children are in school we are spending money on routine paperwork. I see a big problem.
One would assume that producing public records would fall under the “routine” category. Apparently not.
According to Robinson’s breakdown, it took three attorneys 30 hours, eight conferences and 10 reviews over two weeks to produce the papers that were already in their possession. I think of this as a money making machine not an efficient way to spend our tax dollars.
These documents that were requested were not Top-Secret. They only need someone had to black out Social Security numbers, some medical information and a few other odds and ends. And it takes three attorneys to do this? Really?
Robinson claims to possess a high IQ and sharp memory should have been able to locate that information within minutes. But I guess he was using that IQ trying to figure out how to make money off of the taxpayers.
North Port reporter John Davis requested the personnel file of Kevin Vespia, who was just named police chief.
One city clerk took four hours to redact the same type of personal information that was blacked out in the Kashitskaya case.
The file was 800 to 900 pages. And the city, which is generally responsive and cooperative in releasing public documents, did not charge for it.
Why the difference? If a city clerk can do this job in hours why is the City Commission allowing this to continue? In the past, the city commissioners have been reluctant to question Robinson’s bills or strategies. Why? Is this not their job and responsibility?
For instance, he has steered the commission to push code enforcement cases into court, where residents have faced losing their homes over minor violations that accumulated fines exceeding $100,000.
Not only have those cases generated bad publicity for the city, but the cost of paying Robinson to pursue them has greatly outweighed the fines they’ve collected. Financial responsible, I don’t think so.
City Commissioner Tom Jones looked into the Kashitskaya public records invoices. “They don’t look like they’re unreasonable billings to me,” he concluded. Commissioner Jones may have a lifestyle where throwing money down the drain is fine, but the residence of the City of North Port do not.
Even if state law allowed Robinson to charge $160 an hour to prepare a public document for release — and that’s certainly arguable — there’s nothing that says he has to, or that he should. And, nothing says that the City Commission has to let him get away with it.